Three Greek Children: A Story of Home in Old Time - Alfred J. Church

At the Toilet

It was one of the little girl's great delights to see their mother dress, or, perhaps I should say, be dressed, for her maid or maids (she generally had two or three waiting on her) used to do very early every thing for her. What she used to wear is more than I can tell you. But you can get some notion of what she looked like when the dressing was finished from the picture that you will find with this chapter.

One day Gorgo—little Rhodium happened that day to be not quite well—found a new maid waiting upon her mother. The old one, who had been with her ever since her marriage, was just married. This sort of thing often happens in England. A girl goes into service when she is sixteen or seventeen years old, and then, perhaps in ten years' time, when she has saved up some money, she marries a young man whom she knew at home, or whose acquaintance she has made since, perhaps the baker's young man, or the young fellow that calls for orders from the grocer. But this was not at all what had happened to Lapaxo, for this was the name of the young woman who had just married. In the summer of the year in which Leon was married he had gone on an expedition against some towns in Thrace, which is the country that they now call Albania. The expedition did not do very much, for the Thracians were very brave and fierce, and were always ready to meet the Athenians when they tried to land. But they did manage to take one of the towns, coming on it by surprise early one morning, when the country people were going in to market, and the gates happened to be blocked up by a number of carts. When it was taken, all the people in it were sold as slaves. This was a shocking thing to do, but it was one of the ways in which money was got to pay the soldiers' and sailors' wages. This time the general got nearly £30,000 for the slaves he sold. Leon did not think it was wrong; but he had a tender heart, and when he saw poor Lapaxo hiding her face with her hands and crying as if her heart would break, he could not help being very sorry for her. She was the daughter of one of the chief men of the place, and was a very pretty, refined-looking girl. So Leon determined to buy her, and give her to his wife that was to be. He had to give as much as £200 for her, for the slave-dealers who followed the army bid very high. Happily Leon was a rich man, and when he said out aloud: "By Hera, I will give two talents sooner than let her go," the dealers gave up. This was how Lapaxo came to be Elpinicé's maid.

And now you shall hear about her marriage. For eight years she lived with her mistress, and seemed to have no thought of a change. She would not so much as look at any of the slaves, and when a rich tradesman, who had happened to see her when he was putting up some beautiful purple curtains from Thyatira, wanted to make her his wife, she said "No," quite angrily. (You must understand that this man was a foreigner, for, of course, no Athenian would have thought of marrying a slave.) Well, one day she went with her mistress to a great service in one of the temples, and there were some archers from Thrace keeping the road that the crowd might not push against the ladies. When she saw the captain of the archers, she turned quite pale. He was her old lover. You see the Thracians did not much care for whom they fought, and this young man, who had been away from the town when it was taken, had taken service with the Athenian army, and being a brave and clever fellow, had done very well. He recognized Lapaxo quite as quickly as she had recognized him, and it was not long before he found out where she lived. By great good luck he had served under Leon, and had once helped him when he was wounded. So when he went with a bag of gold, which he had saved out of his pay, and told his story, and wanted to buy Lapaxo's freedom, Leon said: "No, my good friend, I have long wanted to do something for you, so I will set her free for nothing, and you shall use the money to begin housekeeping with."

[Illustration] from Three Greek Children by Alfred J. Church


This is quite a long story about Elpinicé's maid; but I wanted you to know how people got their servants in those days. And how, do you think, did the lady get her new one? Why, she was left to her by her aunt's will. The old lady thought very highly of her, and left her to Elpinicé because she was her favorite niece. "I bequeath," she wrote in her will, "my chief dresser, Glykerion by name, to my brother's daughter, Elpinicé, wife of Leon, son of Hipponax. Let her be reckoned as of the value of twenty minas (about £83), for indeed she is the most skilful adorner in Athens. But let not her mistress spare the slipper, for indeed she is as lazy as she is skilful." You must know that ladies used to beat their maids with their slippers if they did not please them.

So Glykerion came to wait on Leon's wife, and this was the day on which she began her duties. She got on well enough, though indeed she seemed to think it all beneath her, till she had done dressing her mistress' hair. Then she began to look about as if for something that she could not find. At last she whispered to one of the slave girls: "Where is the rouge box?" Her mistress heard her, and said: "I never use rouge." Glykerion almost dropped the brush with which she was giving one or two last touches to the hair. Then she recovered herself. "Truly your ladyship has color enough of your own. But a little white-lead——" "No, nor white-lead either, " said Elpinicé; "I am quite content to be as nature made me." "Nature!" said the maid, under her breath. "What barbarism! Castor preserve me! What would my old mistress have said?"

Elpinicé thought it a good time, when the maid was gone, to have a little talk with Gorgo about these things. The little girl was beginning, as little girls sometimes will, to think too much about herself. She would look in the glass (I should rather say the "brass," for people in those days used polished brass or silver instead of glass, to see their faces in), and put on a smile or a languishing look, or strike an attitude. Once her mother found her trying on a mantle, with a couple of bracelets on her arm that she had taken out of the jewelry box. So now she said:

"I am going to tell my little girl something that happened before she was born. I am afraid she will think that her mother was a very foolish woman. Well, when I was married I was not content to be as nature made me, but used to paint myself red and white with the very things that you heard the maid ask for. I must say this for myself, that I had been taught to do it; it was the custom in our family, as it is in many families still. And this is how I was cured of it. One day, about a month after we had been married, your dear father said, 'I have a present for you, my love,' and he showed me a very handsome-looking casket. When I opened it, there was a mantle of rich purple, just the very color that he knew I liked best, and under the mantle a fine gold bracelet wrapped in wool, and at the bottom a number of silver pieces. I was delighted, and threw my arms round his neck and kissed him. 'You dear, good husband,' I said, 'what a beautiful present!' There was just a little twinkle in his eye. I did notice that, but I was too much pleased to think any thing about it. So I began to count over the money, for I had never even seen so much together before. And as I was counting it, one of the pieces slipped out of my hand and fell on the table. It made such a dull sound, not in the least like the ring of good money, that I cried out: "Oh! it must be bad!' 'It does not sound well,' your father said; 'try another one.' so I tried another one, and that was just as bad, and then a third and a fourth, till I was quite tired, and there was not a single good one among them. Then your father said: 'Just try the bracelet with your nail; perhaps that is not all right, and sure enough, when I tried it with my nail, a piece of gold leaf came off, and showed me the wood underneath. 'Dear me,' said my husband, 'this is a bad business.' As for me, I burst out crying, and one of the tears fell on the mantle, and I saw the beautiful purple color begin to run. 'Well,' said my husband, 'there is only the casket left; let us try that.' And he wetted his finger, and, lo and behold! instead of being ebony, as I had thought, it was only common pine wood painted black! And so all my beautiful present was a mere sham. I threw myself on the couch, and cried as if my heart would break. Then your father came and sat down by me, and said: 'So my darling likes real things, not sham. And quite right, too; and so does her husband. He likes his wife's real face, and not a face painted to look redder than it is and whiter than it is; and he likes his wife's real figure, which he thinks just of the right height, and not one that is made about three inches taller than it is with high-heeled boots. And now, my darling, forgive your husband for this little trick, and give him a kiss.' So I looked up, and he had artfully put a looking-glass so that I could not help seeing myself. Oh! what a fright I was, for the tears had run down through the red and white, and made the most terrible mess of my face. Well, that finished the lesson, if it wanted finishing. I never used paint again. And the next day your father gave me just such another present, only this time every thing was real, casket, mantle, bracelet, money, and all."