Ringed in their fence of aloes, . . .
A GREAT pine grew among the mulberry trees near the wooden gate. The little house with its green shutters stood well back in the courtyard, away from the street and the shore. The sun, filtering through the vine leaves over the porch, made bright patches on the ground just outside the open door, where old Stamo sat, slowly drinking his morning coffee before the heat of the day began. It was good coffee too, not a concoction of dried figs and ground corn, for Stamo was a man of property, as property goes in the islands. He was a big old man, with blue eyes under bushy white eyebrows, and a pale skin. His hair was still plentiful, and for his age his back was wonderfully straight. He wore the cross-over vest and baggy darkblue cotton breeches of the older islanders. His eyes followed his wife as she moved about the courtyard, watering her pots of sweet basil and carnations before the sun should rise too high. She was thin, and brown-skinned. but had evidently been a handsome woman in her youth, having the broad low brow, straight nose and finely chiseled nostrils of the classic type, which are met with so much oftener in the islands than on the mainland.
‘Moska,’ he began slowly, as she passed close to him, ‘Moska, do you know that I never closed an eye all night?’
She paused, balancing her water-jar on the broken shaft of an old marble column that served as a stand for a multitude of small flower-pots.
‘And why? Are you not well, perhaps?’
Stamo snorted contemptuously.
‘Yes, you had better ask why. If you want to know, you had better ask your daughter why she spent the whole night crying and twisting about and sobbing on the other side of the wall, instead of saying her prayers and going off to sleep like a sensible maid.'
‘And no wonder after the way you shouted at her last evening. Viola has always had a will of her own, you know it, and yesterday you never even let the poor child tell you what she wanted.’
‘ In my time a young girl never lifted her eyes from the ground when her father spoke to her: now they not only look up, but they must speak as well! I have no need to hear what she wants. I know it quite well and she can go on wanting. She will do just what I say, remember that. But you can tell her, at the same time, that I will have no crying at nights, or going about with red eyes and closed lips in the daytime.’
‘ Stamo, you want the loaf whole and the dog satisfied, and you cannot have it.’
‘That is idle talk. Now hark you, wife, you must make the girl listen to reason; you women are better at talking.’
Moska poured all the water out of her jar upon a large ‘ Hibiscus Japonica,’ blossoming into brilliant scarlet in the old battered petroleum tin into which it had been transplanted. Then she brought her jar, to refill it at the large red earthen one which stood against the wall of the house.
‘You are a strange man, Stamo; all her life long you have spoiled the child, letting her have her way in all things, afraid lest the wind blow too hard, or the rain fall on her, and now you would marry her to a man she cannot bear.’
‘And where pray will she find better? Will you tell me? Young, handsome, strong, a good son, and a good worker; yes, one of the best in the island. His father may not have much to leave him when he closes his eyes. It is not the old man’s fault if he fell on evil days. I do not think of the money, what I know is that as God has not given us a son, I would rather Mantho worked in my vineyard and among my olive trees after me, than any man I know. A good lad, too: counts his words like a girl, and sweet-spoken and gentle.’
‘But since she does not like him,’ persisted his wife.
’Bah! leave me in peace with your foolish talk.’
Stamo pushed aside his coffee-cup and began pacing up and down the courtyard, his large hands crossed behind his back playing nervously with his short string of smooth brown beads.
’I have no patience with all this new rubbish. Who asked my mother, or yours, or yourself either, if they liked forsooth the husbands that were chosen for them? Who asked their opinion? And did they fare badly? I ask you did they fare badly? And I tell you plainly, once for all, my daughter is not going to set up her own silly brain against mine either, while I live. What are we reduced to when we must waste our time listening to what a maid will and will not. Fine doings indeed! That will be the feet rising to strike the head as my father used to say.’
Just then a girl came to the house door and stood looking out into the courtyard. The morning breeze made her blue cotton gown flutter a little, and stirred the little black curls at the back of her neck. She stood very quietly, her arms hanging and her hands empty. Her face showed traces of recent tears, and she would never be as handsome as her mother must have been, but she had the real velvety Greek eyes, and the rich coloring of a pomegranate flower.
Her father stopped short in his pacing and looked at her.
‘ Well,’ he said roughly, after a pause, ‘well, are you speechless to-day?’
‘Good-morning, my father.’
A sort of inarticulate grunt was all the answer to her greeting, and the pacing was resumed.
‘Come here,’ he said at last.
The girl advanced and stood before him.
‘Has the night put a little sense into your brain?’ Then, without waiting for an answer, he continued, ‘Your mother here says I do not let you say what you want. It strikes me I have let you say it too often. But lot that be. Just tell us now, who is this man you saw at your aunt’s house, and imagined you could choose for a husband; perhaps your mother will believe then what folly it was sending you to Piræus, and filling your narrow head with town notions. Come, speak, since I permit it. Who is he?’
' He is no town man, but an islander, a sailor in the Navy.’
‘That is to say?’
’Niko Mandelli, the son of Andoni who died, and of Kyra Panayota.’
‘A fine bridegroom, truly! who tried all trades and succeeded in none.’
' He is a sailor, I told you, my father.’
‘Because he cannot get away from the Navy, and because he has to work there whether he will or no. I know him. A man who was left with three sisters when his father died, and who could never earn enough to feed them, much less put aside a dowry for them; with the result that two of them, over thirty, are unmarried to this day, and if the youngest married, and his mother has a piece of bread to eat and a mattress to lie on, it is no thanks to him, but to his uncle, her brother Anastasi. The old woman takes in other folks’ washing, and this fine son of hors, instead of helping in any way, comes and takes what he can from her whenever he is free. A fine bridegroom! His father over again!’
‘His father is dead.’
‘Does that make him any better?’
The old man kicked aside the stool which was before him, and began once more pacing up and down. Then after a pause, —
‘Even were he other than he is, do you think I mean to give you to a sailor, a man who is now here, and now there, and who would never be in his house to look after you, when I have closed my eyes? Put that out of your head.’
‘Niko said he would soon be promoted and earn more, and then, through the deputy who knew his father, he could manage to be ordered here to the Naval School, and stay with us always.’
‘He is very good! And if you please will you do me the favor to tell me how you know all this? Decent maidens do not look up when a strange young man speaks.’
‘He said it to my uncle, and my uncle told me.'
‘ I always knew your uncle had about as much brain as a cock, but I never thought even he would talk of marriage to a maid, before her parents knew of it.’
‘My uncle knows many things and reads many newspapers, and he says now in our time women must choose for themselves.’
The old man laughed aloud.
‘Truly a fine jest! and the next thing will be perhaps that after a maid has found her bridegroom all alone, she will come and tell her parents that the matter is settled. But I am a fool to waste my words. Put all this nonsense out of your head at once. Even if I would give you to Niko Mandelli, which I never will, I could not. I have spoken long ago to Mantho’s father, to old Photi, and he is willing.’
‘That does not matter, Stamo,’ put in his wife, ‘they have not been engaged by the priest, nor exchanged rings; you could change your mind if you liked.’
‘Stamo, the son of Theophani the miller, does not change his mind,’ shouted the old man angrily; ‘moreover all the village knows it. Are we so many that what is known to two houses can be hidden from all the rest? You must gather yourself together a little, my girl. It is ended now, the running up the hillsides for thyme or cyclamen or koumara, or sitting idle under the olive trees. You are a grown maiden now, and must stay at home and help your mother to prepare your dower-clothes.’
‘But Mantho is slow-witted, he never opens his lips, and I do not like him,’ said Viola, her eyes filling again.
‘He is a good lad, and a good son, and he can work if he cannot talk. That is enough words. You will take the man I choose for you, like or no like; yes, and sing a little song into the bargain.’
The girl lifted her eyes and looked her father full in the face.
‘ I will marry no man if it be not my will also; even before the priest I will say no!’
‘Silence,’ shouted her father. ‘How dare you lift your voice up before me?’
He raised his hand as though to strike her, but His wife seized hold of his arm. He wrenched it free, and catching hold of Viola by the shoulder twisted her round.
‘Listen to me. What I say I mean. You will marry Mantho if you marry at all. For the sake of my name, and what they will say in the island, I will not marry you to any man by force. But if you do marry, it shall be to the man I have chosen. Otherwise you die a maid. I have said. It is finished.’
He released his grasp of the girl so suddenly that she swayed and caught hold of the vine-trunk to save herself from falling. Then, with a scowl on his face, he crossed over to where the great pine grew among t he mulberry trees, pulled open the wooden gate and went out.
Viola turned round and went indoors, her mother following with the empty jar in her hand.
In the house both shutters and panes were wide open, admitting the fragrance of the lemon-blossom and the strong fresh brine from the sea, also other varied village odors less easily definable. An old four-post bed with quaintly twisted columns, probably a relic of Venetian days in the island, stood in one corner, and the girl seated herself on this, letting her feet swing backwards and forwards.
‘My father may say, and he may shout, nevertheless I will marry whom I will, and no other. If he be Stamo son of Theophani, I am Viola the daughter of Stamo, and my will is as strong as his. Mother, say, have I not always done as I would?’
Moska sighed, foreseeing trouble.
‘ But you must not anger your father, my child.’
‘No,’ said Viola, ‘I will not. It makes much noise, and it serves no purpose.’
Viola remembered Mantho from the time she was a tiny maid of four or five years old. Her father would often in those days hoist her on his shoulder and carry her with him when he went to work on the mainland, in his olive grove and lemon orchard.
Old Photi’s land adjoined theirs, and his son Mantho, a tall, awkward, silent lad, was always by his side.
He would leave off work at sunset, a little before his father, and returning to the tiny three-roomed hut, would light the fire, tidy up the place, and cook their bean soup or their boiled herbs as handily as any woman, singing the while to himself all the island songs he had ever heard. Song came to him far more naturally than speech, and his voice had that peculiar vibration in it which brings at the same time pure delight and also sweet pain to the hearer.
For some days, however, after the storm of the explanation there was a period of calm. Few words were exchanged between Viola and her father, and when sometimes after dark a few bars of a love-song were heard outside the house, old Stamo would smile complacently, as though consenting to the courtship of an accepted lover.
Nevertheless, a whisper ran round the village that the marriage of Photi’s Mantho and Stamo’s Viola was not so much an accomplished fact as it had been considered. Whence the rumor sprang no one knew, nor from which side the reluctance arose, but it was generally attributed to Viola.
It was full moon and old Stamo had been sitting after supper with his wife under the great pine that grew among the mulberry trees. When they came indoors there was no light in the house, for the moonlight was streaming through the open shutters, and Moska was too good a housewife to waste good oil where it was not needed. Viola was leaning against the window, her eyes fixed on the shimmering reflection of the moon on the sea, but her arched eyebrows were drawn into a straight line, and her lips tightly closed.
Suddenly, while her father’s hand was on the door of the sleeping-room beyond, and her mother had just taken out the sprigs of myrtle that closed the mouth of the large water-jar in order to fill a smaller one for the night, a man’s voice arose out of the shadow of the neighboring houses.
Not a very powerful voice, perhaps, though an old Frenchman who came to the island some years later, and who had heard all the wonderful singers of his day, told Mantho that had he only studied he might have been a great tenor, and have sung not only in Athens, but in Italy where the public is so hard to please, in Paris where good singing is understood, and in London where great sums are paid to listen to it. But it was too late then. It was a voice young, warm, and resonant; what the older Italians meant when they talked of ‘il bel canto.’ A voice, and above all a way of bringing forth, which produced the impression that not only had the singer himself composed the song he was singing, but that it faithfully expressed his feeling, or passion, of the moment. A voice that embodied all the joy and all the sadness of life, but stripped it of all sordidness or brutality. A voice that made every nerve vibrate even of the least music-loving, that was at one and the same time a spiritual joy and a physical caress.
Viola took a step back into the room as though to leave the window, when it first arose; but after the first notes she stood quite still and went no farther.
The old people came closer and peered out, but no figure was visible in the moonlight, though every object and every shadow was as sharply defined as at noon. Two or three of the smaller houses on the right jutted out into the road, and it was easy to be hidden from view behind them.
The song was a simple island lovesong which they all knew well and had heard often: but it had a plaintive sound that seemed new to them.
The long sweet notes rose and fell, ending almost in a sigh.
When it was over, Stamo looked at his daughter.
‘Well, my lass,’ he said, ‘I do not think there are many maidens who can say they are so sweetly courted.’
‘He sings well,’ said Viola, ‘but it is no courtship, that a lad should sing a song on a summer night, when the moon is high.'
‘Patience,’ laughed her father, ‘the rest will come.’
The next afternoon, as there were no lemons left in the house, Viola told her mother she would cross over to the orchard and bring some back with her.
‘Take a bundle of clothes with you also,’ said Moska; ‘we wash on Monday, and it will be that less to carry.’
For through the lemon trees ran a little stream coming down from the hills; and as it never dried up even in summer, the women always took their linen there to wash. So Viola tied a white kerchief over her hair, snatched up the bundle, and before opening the wooden gate stopped a moment, where the great pine grew among the mulberry trees, to pick some of the purple berries into a leaf, for refreshment on the way.
One of Louka’s boats was just starting for the mainland, so, bestowing the last of her mulberries on Nasso, one of the ragged lads always hanging about the quay, Viola jumped into it, finding herself with six other passengers, to say nothing of a mule.
Once on the other side she paid her five lepta, and crossed the shady beach, and the olive-planted slope that led to a narrow lane beyond.
Viola walked more slowly along this lane, as though she were beginning to feel the weight of her bundle. On both sides were garden walls overshadowed by lemon and other fruit trees, and here and there little white houses with their covered terraces, and rows of orange-colored pumpkins spread out to dry on the terrace ledges. Toward the end of the lane she lifted the latch of a high wooden gate and passed into the orchard. A narrow path between two rows of tall cypresses led to the fruit trees. Oleanders and jasmine grew in tangled masses of pink and white and yellow against the dark straight trunks. The lemon trees were giving well this year, and clusters of light yellow hung thick under the shining leaves. Here and there were dotted a few smaller mandarin trees, and at the farthest end was the silver gray of the olives. Beyond a hedge of aloes was another strip of land planted with a few trees, and at one corner a very small white house.
Viola deposited her bundle in a little outhouse where the fodder was kept, and then, going to one of the heaviestladen lemon trees, she stood looking up at the fruit. Under the shade of a giant walnut tree a mule was turning round and round at the pump-well, and Viola could hear the monotonous creaking of the primitive wooden wheel.
A young man was opening channels in the soft earth for the water to flow into the ditches dug round the roots of the trees. He turned at the sound of Viola’s footsteps, started, and throwing down his mattock, came up to where she stood.
He was of middle height, brown-eyed, with a slight dark moustache that left the lips free. His features were not in any way remarkable, but were well-finished. In motion he was rather graceful, but when in repose he had awkward restless movements of his hands, and now and then a little nervous shake of the head.
‘Welcome,’ he said; and then after a moment, as she did not speak, ‘your father has not been here to-day; he is well?’
‘Yes, quite well, but he has gone for two days to Piræus.’
‘For the plough, perhaps?’
‘Yes, so he said.’
There was a pause. Mantho clasped and unclasped his hands, and balanced himself first on one foot, and then on the other, looking all the time at Viola.
‘Is there anything you wish?’ he asked at last.
‘My mother has no lemons; I came to get some.’
‘Shall I pick you a few?’
‘Yes, if you will.’
He pulled seven or eight of the yellowest fruit off the laden branches and looked at her inquiringly.
‘Add a few more, that I may not have to be coming again to-morrow.’
When he had made a little pile on the ground of fifteen or so, she said, —
‘Thank you, that is enough.’
‘How will you carry them?’
She looked about her vaguely.
‘True, I forgot to bring my tagari.'
‘Wait, I will bring one.’
He ran to the back of the orchard, struggled through a gap in the hedge, and crossing the strip of land to the little house, returned almost at once bringing a brightly striped tagari in his hand. In this he placed the lemons, covering them with a few of their leaves.
‘There is still room; shall I lay a few figs at the top?’
‘It is not worth while,’ said the girl; ‘we have still a few left from this morning, and we are only two souls in the house, now that my father is away.’
She took the tagari from his hand, and he waited. Then as she made no movement to go,—
‘It is heavy for you, perhaps?’ he asked.
‘ Bah, it is nothing; I could carry ten times as much.’
She took a few steps toward the entrance, then turned suddenly, and, with decision in her voice, said, —
‘Mantho, my father told me that he has spoken to yours, that they have agreed between them — that they — that we — ’
‘Yes,’ said the man, with a little quiver of his eyelids, ‘I know.’
Viola hesitated a moment and then continued,—
‘I must speak to you of this’; but as he looked up at her she went on hurriedly, ‘yes, I know—you will say perhaps it is not seemly t hat I should come here, and speak to you on this matter alone; I do not know — perhaps you are right, but I must do it; there is no one else. My father has been very angry with me, and I have suffered much for many days now.’
‘ You must not suffer. What angered your father? I thought he was always good to you. He loves you well.’
‘He loves me well while I am ready to say, “Yes, Lord!” to his every will. But if I be not ready, then he swears things must happen as he orders, and if I suffer it matters not, for a maid’s will is of no account,’
‘What does he order?’
‘That I marry you.’
The man turned pale under his sunburn.
‘I do not wish it; no.’
There was silence for a moment, broken only by the slow continuous creaking of the wooden wheel and the buzz of the insects in the trees. Then Viola resumed, —
‘You must not think evil in your mind. It is not that you are poor, or that I do not know you are good — but, I cannot be married to you.’
Mantho pressed one hand tight ly against the other and cleared his throat once or twice.
‘If you do not wish it, it must not be,’ he said slowly. ' You must tell your father you cannot do it.’
‘Do you think I have not told him? But he will not listen. For two days we talked, and at the end he was terribly angry. And now I am afraid of him. You cannot tell how afraid I am! He took me by the shoulder, so hard — I nearly fell.’
The man’s face darkened; he took a step forward.
‘These things must not be. No one must make you afraid. Your father must understand that you cannot do as he wills — that you would suffer. Cannot your mother speak to him?’
‘She has spoken; he will not listen to her any more than to me. It is finished, he says, all the island knows it, and he will not change. And if he forces me, what can I, a poor maid, do? Can I shame you and myself and say no before the priest? I told him I would do even that, but I think I would rather die.’
‘Hush — fit shall not be, I tell you. I will speak to him myself, I will tell him that you cannot —’
‘For God’s name, no! He would kill me if he knew I had come here and spoken to you myself on the matter.’
‘ But then —’
‘Nay, listen. There is but one way. You are good, Mantho, you have always had a good heart, you will not refuse to help me, and some day the Holy Virgin will send you a bride a thousand times better than I am.’
‘But since you will not let me speak to him.’
‘Not as you meant to, no. But you must speak to him, Mantho, and I will bless you always — you must tell him —’
‘What must I tell him?’
‘That you will not marry me.’
His face hardened.
‘That is impossible. I do not tell such lies. Moreover, it would be an insult. My father has given his word.’
‘Mantho, I beg of you. You can say your father had not asked you. That you are a man grown, and have your own will. That you do not wish to marry yet.’
‘Your father would be terribly angered, and justly.’
‘At first, yes, but it would pass with time, and you could see him less often perhaps. While I — Oh, Mantho, will you not help me?’
‘Not in this way; I cannot.'
‘I see; your words are idle words. You say at first you would not have me suffer, and when I ask your help, you fear my father’s anger too much. You would rather it fell upon me!’
‘ That you must not say. ’
' Why not, since it is true? Well, I will go now. It is late. I was foolish to think you would help me — men have always great words — but they are only words.’
‘Stay; you wish me to tell your father that I refuse to marry you?’
‘ Since you will not do it, why do you ask again?’
For a few moments the man stood quite still, his hands tightly clenched, his brows knit. The creaking of the wooden wheel went on monotonously and unceasingly. He had worked accompanied by this sound nearly all his life long, and had never noticed it any more than the chirp of the tettix; now it seemed to him that the noise was maddening.
Suddenly he looked her full in the eyes.
‘Will you tell me one thing? Is it that you do not wish to be married, or — you have been away from the island — you may have seen others, with more learning, with better ways than ours. Is it perhaps that there is some one for whom your heart has spoken, and to whom your father will not give you?’
Viola looked at him in astonishment; she had never yet heard so long a speech from Mantho.
‘My father will not give me now,’she answered, ‘ but perhaps, who knows, later on, when Niko comes here —’
‘Ah! And he loves you, this man?’
‘It seems so to me.'
‘Then why does he not come at once, like an honest lad, and ask you from your father?’
‘No, no, not yet, I do not wish him to come yet. I do not wish to seem that it is I who refuse to marry you. My father is terrible when he is angry with me, or when things do not come as he likes. Only to think of him makes me afraid.’
' Be not afraid then. I will say what you wish,’
‘Oh, Mantho, I thank you. I always knew you were good, but —’
‘Hush, I am not good; only you must not suffer or be afraid. These things must not be. Now go. It is late. And your mother will wonder.’
‘Good-night. Sleep well — and be not afraid.’
Viola was right in describing her father as terrible when things did not happen as he liked. To the suggestion that she had thrown out the night of the serenade, that though old Photi was so pleased about this marriage, his son might not be as willing, he had never even given a second thought. So that now the young man’s quiet announcement that he had not yet thought of marriage, that he thanked Kyr Stamo for preferring him, but that wit hout intending any disrespect to his daughter, he meant to go on living alone, with his father, came upon the old man like a bolt from the blue. The scene with Mantho was terrible. Two hired men who were working in the vineyard the day it happened, witnessed it from a distance, and even heard part of the old man’s furious invectives.
Stamo never for a moment dreamed that this unheard-of refusal of Mantho’s to fulfill the engagement entered into by his father, could in any way be connected with what he considered Viola’s foolish talk of some days ago. On the contrary he was convinced that notwithstanding all she said then, she must be feeling the insult offered to her by Mantho very deeply, and attributed all her entreaties in his favor to the weak mercy of an exceptionally tender heart. He fulfilled his threats to the letter, and Mantho gained nothing but excuses or evasive answers wherever he applied for work. The result was that the poor lad saw absolute starvation before him and consequently his father, unless he decided to leave the island and seek for work elsewhere.
It must be confessed that he had never foreseen this extreme result of his sacrifice, and that it was with a heavy heart and bitter thoughts that he decided to tell his father that he must leave him.
It was three days later, while the old man was loosening the earth round the roots of his olive trees, that Mantho told him very gent ly that there was no work for him anywhere on the island, and that he thought of going to Kalamata in the Peloponnesus, where he had been told that there was much work to be had, on account of the many strong men and lads who had emigrated from there to America.
His father said very little. That Greece was a small country and that the lad could not at worst be more than two days’ journey away, meant nothing to the old peasant. To him Poros was his country, just as to his ancestors in the old days each man’s city represented the whole of the fatherland.
Viola knew that Mantho had left, but that was all. The only one from whom she might have heard news of him was his father, and she never went across to the mainland now. Stamo, content with the vengeance he had taken for the insult offered him, never mentioned Mantho’s name, and if he regretted the clever willing worker, who had always been so prompt to forestall any disaster to the trees or vines, so ready to obey, or to suggest as the case might be, he never said so.
Viola spent more time indoors than formerly, only going to the fountain for water, or now and then with Maroussa and Youla as far as the narrow beach outside the Naval School to see the sailors being exercised. She tried to understand the sharp orders given, the marching and counter-marching, and often told her companions how much finer Niko would look when he got his stripe than most of the under-officers who put the untrained recruits through their paces. She even persuaded Youla one day when they were alone together, to stop with her on pretence of asking for a glass of water at the door of the little tumble-down house where Niko’s old mother and two sisters lived.
They found an unkempt, frowsy-looking old woman, busy with her daughter at the wash-tub in the yard. She stopped just long enough in the midst of a noisy altercation with the younger woman, to fill a small gourd, telling them they might drink out of that. They left after putting it to their lips, but they could hear the old woman shrieking and wrangling violently, long after they had left the house behind them.
Viola often wondered why, though nearly a year had passed since her return from Piræus, nothing further had ever been heard of Niko; but the wonder remained in a way impersonal, and the silence carried no sting with it. Sitting idle under the great pine that grew among the mulberry trees, she would strive to keep her thoughts fixed on the young sailor as she remembered him, with his ready laugh, his trim figure, and the curious narrowing and softening of his eyes when he spoke to her. But all these memories, which at first had been so vividly present that she had only to close her eyes to see his face again, were getting faint and elusive. The image was dim, and sometimes after many days it was with a start that she remembered Niko again. This made her angry every time it happened. She did not consciously accuse herself of fickleness. Self-analysis is not the rule in Poros, but it made her vaguely dissatisfied, irritable, and liable to bursts of ill-temper, which even her quiet, easy-going mother found it hard to endure. The poor sorely-tried creature was convinced that her girl was pining for the absent, careless, sailor lover she had talked about so much, and she was even mustering up the necessary courage for another appeal to her husband in their behalf. So that her bewilderment was as great as her relief at the fashion in which Viola received some news that Maroussa told them one evening, when she came to borrow an egg for her grandmother. It was after dark, and none could be bought at that hour, it being firmly believed in Poros that hens will not lay again if their eggs are sold after sunset.
There had been a letter from Metro in Athens, Maroussa said, and among other things he mentioned having seen Niko Mandelli, the sailor from Poros, walking out last Sunday afternoon with his young bride, the daughter of a rich iron-founder in Piræus, whose dowry it was said was over fifteen thousand drachmas. Maroussa added that his mother, to whom Niko had written the news, begging her to keep his marriage a secret for the present, was nevertheless boasting all over the village of her son’s great good-fortune.
Viola listened in silence till, catching sight of her mother’s anxious, almost agonized look fixed on her, she suddenly burst into an irresistible fit of laughter, and threw her arms round her.
‘My poor old manoula! Do you think I am going to weep or faint or die? See, there is not the least little tear. We shall find plenty better than Niko Mandelli, and never shall I give him another thought, as sure as my name is Viola.’
And when Moska, stroking her hand, asked tremulously, ‘Are you perhaps showing courage, my daughter, that I should not be uneasy? Surely you must have had a shock. Will you not lie down on the big bed, while I get you a little orange-flower water?’ she refused laughingly, adding, —
’I am well, quite well, manoula; you shall be tortured no more, and hear no more angry words.’
She kept her promise, and was gentle, and smiled often, though sometimes she still sat buried in thought under the great pine that grew among the mulberry trees.
About two years after Mantho’s departure, toward Easter, old Ghika, the miller, sent an ambassadress — as the habit is in Poros — to ask for Viola in marriage for his son Banayi. The girl prepared again for battle with her father, as the proposed bridegroom, though an undersized, sickly-looking youth, was reckoned to be not only doing well as a joiner in Piræus, but to have expectations in the future, — Ghika, his father, being well known as a miser, and likely to have much put by. Strange to say, there was no battle, nor even a skirmish. Stamo contented himself by quietly stating one evening to his wife and daughter that he had told Kyra Krinio, the ambassadress in question, that he was much honored, but having one daughter only, he could not consent to her living away from the island. Stranger still, for in Poros women are not often listened to, and rarely if ever consulted, he turned to Viola, asking, —
‘Did I not say well?’
‘Very well, my father,’she answered, deeply relieved at this easy solution of the difficulty she had dreaded.
Then old Photi fell ill; nothing very serious at first, just a little marsh fever that he neglected; but one day he was found faint and shivering at the foot of an olive tree, having lain there some hours with no strength to drag himself as far as the little house. Moska, returning from the fountain, told Viola that Kyr Vangheli, the schoolmaster, had sent a letter to Mantho to tell him he must come to his father, if only for a few days. Then a few days later someone said that Photi was much better, and that when Mantho arrived he had found his father up and about; but this was again contradicted, and others said that the old man had been in time to send word to his son not to trouble, so that he was not coming at all.
The truth was that Mantho had arrived quite early one morning, and finding his father better, but not up, had remained for two days shut up in their little house with him, so that it was only on the third day that he came across to the island.
In fact, Viola was the first to see him.
She had been sitting under the great pine that grew among the mulberry trees, and her mother, who had just gone out, had left the wooden gate open, so that Viola sat watching the sea and the few passers-by.
It was some time after sunset, and the bats were circling above in the darkening sky.
Viola looked up suddenly and saw Mantho looking at her. It seemed to her for a moment as though she had been expecting him all day.
She rose and walked toward him.
‘Welcome, Mantho. I did not know for certain that you had returned. Come in.’
He followed her, and as she stopped to close the gate, she added, —
‘How is your father? How did you find him?’
‘I thank you, he is better. He had neglected himself, but I gave him quinine and kept him warm, and to-morrow or the day after he will be up, and out in the sun.’
‘That is well. And have you found good work there, where you stay?’
‘There is plenty of work for all at Kalamata.’
‘And is it a fine country?’
‘ It is not an ugly place, and the people are good, but it is not the island.’
Viola looked down, and was silent for a moment; then: ‘And how came you in the neighborhood this evening?’
‘I came,’ said Mantho, quietly, ‘ that I might see you. Also I heard your father was at Sotiro’s, and as I leave Poros again in two days, I came near the house, with the hope that perhaps I might speak a word with you, and learn whether you are content, and whether no one makes you suffer.’
‘Did you come for that alone?’asked Viola, looking away at the sea.
‘For that alone, yes. For what else should I come?’
‘I thought perhaps that as you heard I was still free, and that few had asked for me, you might have come to try whether I were more willing now than two years ago. Moreover, I am still Stamo’s daughter, and the oilyears have been good.’
She looked up curiously as she spoke, to see how he would take her words. It was so dark she could scarcely distinguish his face, but she could hear him breathing heavily.
When he spoke his voice sounded far-off and toneless.
‘You know well that you have lied, that no such thought could come to me. Listen. I go, and shall not return, but you must hear first what I have to say. As I stand here and as God hears me, never have I given a thought to your father’s riches. If I had wished, I could have said naught and he would have given you to me; but because you did not wish to marry me, I lied to your father, and took back my father’s given word. They said bad things of me, but I let them say. Then I went away from the island, because, since you were afraid, it could not be otherwise: but I left the old man all alone, and he has but me. I worked for my bread, a stranger in strange parts. I could not know if any day that dawned I might not hear that you were wed. God knows what I suffered, but I swear before Him now, that you shall become a stranger to me. Never again shall you say what you have said to-day. They were unjust words. I go, that I may not say worse.’
He turned away and strove to open the gate, but his fingers were limp and trembling, and he could not do it.
All at once Viola rose and stood before him.
‘Yes, they were unjust words, they were evil words, but you must forget them. You must not go. I do not know why I said them. I was mad, I think. You said yourself that they were lies. Mantho, you must not go, you must never go. I will not let you go.’ And as he still strove with the latch and gave her never a word, or a look, ‘Listen,’she said, ‘ I told you two years ago that I did not wish to marry you, did I not?’
‘Let me go,’ he muttered harshly, ‘all that is over.’
‘It is over, yes; you say well, it is over. I did not know then what I wished. I thought of the other man, but when you went away and at night t here was silence round the house, and I heard your songs no more, then I struck my head in despair and knew I was a fool. When they told me he was married I was glad, and to-day when I saw you, there was joy in my heart. So, indeed, I cannot think why I said the evil words that angered you. Mantho, Mantho!’ for he had opened the gate, ‘you must not go, oh, you must not go!’
‘Why should I stay? To-morrowyou will send me away again: you will say once more that it is your will. It is better I should go. You have tortured me too long.’
She turned away and sank down on the little bench hiding her face in her hands, and swaying to and fro.
‘Oh, Christ!’ she cried, ‘Christ and Holy Virgin, have I not suffered also, and now he will not believe me. Oh, my God, if he leaves me I shall be always alone and there will be no one to love me, no one, no one.’
Her words ended in sobs.
It was quite dark now. Mantho closed the gate softly and came near her.
‘There will always be one,’ he said; and then he stooped over her and touched her wet cheek tenderly.
‘Let me tell you,’ he whispered, ‘he is poor, the one who loves you, but he is not old, and his arms are strong to work for you and to hold you. He is not very learned in letters, and he does not know very much of the outside world. He cannot tell his secret pain as other lovers do, but he can sing it like a bird in the woods. He has not learned to bow and make fine speeches as the Franks do, but he can love well in the old-fashioned Greek way.’
Then he put his arms round her, and they stood together under the great, pine that grew among the mulberry trees.