wiping his forehead

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.

“Mattina!”

“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?”

“Yes.”

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[28]
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!”

Continue Reading

Well, then

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.'”[27]

The child gulped down a big sob.

“Mattina had no rag to make a sail; she said to ask Mamma….”

“And then?”

“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:–

“There.”

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.

“Impossible.”

“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.

“No, certainly!”

“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?”

Continue Reading

Suddenly the dark

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.

“I?”

“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[24] to the big prison of
the “Palamidi”;[25] 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![26] Where are you?”

Continue Reading