Read CHAPTER II of Daphne‚ An Autumn Pastoral , free online book, by Margaret Pollock Sherwood, on

An hour later it was four o’clock. High, high up among the sloping hills Daphne sat on a great gray stone. Below her, out beyond olive orchards and lines of cypress, beyond the distant stone pines, stretched the Campagna, rolling in, like the sea that it used to be, wave upon wave of color, green here, but purple in the distance, and changing every moment with the shifting shadows of the floating clouds. Dome and tower there, near the line of shining sea, meant Rome.

Full sense of the enchantment of it all looked out of the girl’s face. Wonder sat on her forehead, and on her parted lips. It was a face serious, either with persistent purpose or with some momentary trouble, yet full of an exquisite hunger for life and light and space. Eyes and hair and curving cheek, all the girl’s sensitive being seemed struggling to accept the gift of beauty before her, almost too great to grasp.

“After this,” she said half aloud, her far glance resting on Rome in the hazy distance, “anything is possible.”

“I don’t seem real,” she added, touching her left hand with the forefinger of her right. “It is Italy, Italy, and that is Rome. Can all this exist within two weeks of the rush and jangle of Broadway?”

There was no answer, and she half closed her eyes, intoxicated with beauty.

A live thing darted across her foot, and she looked down to catch a glimpse of something like a slender green flame licking its way through the grass.

“Lizards crawling over me unrebuked,” she said smiling. “Perhaps the millénium has come.”

She picked two grass blades and a single fern.

“They aren’t real, you know,” she said, addressing herself. “This is all too good to be true. It will fold up in a minute and move away for the next act, and that will be full of tragedy, with an ugly background.”

The heights still invited. She rose, and wandered on and up. Her step had the quick movement of a dweller in cities, not the slow pace of those who linger along country roads, keeping step with nature. In the cut and fashion of her gown was evinced a sophistication, and a high seriousness, possibly not her own.

She watched the deep imprint that her footsteps made in the soft grass.

“I’m half afraid to step on the earth here,” she murmured to herself. “It seems to be quivering with old life.”

The sun hung lower in the west. Of its level golden beams were born a thousand shades of color on the heights and in the hollows of the hills. Over all the great Campagna blue, yellow, and purple blended in an autumn haze.

“Oh!” cried the girl, throwing out her arms to take in the new sense of life that came flooding in upon her. “I cannot take it in. It is too great.”

As she climbed, a strength springing from sheer delight in the wide beauty before her came into her face.

“It was selfish, and I am going to take it back. To-night I will write and say so. I could face anything now.”

This hill, and then the side of that; one more gate, then Daphne turned for another look at Rome and the sea. Rome and the sea were gone. Here was a great olive orchard, there a pasture touching the sky, but where was anything belonging to her? Somewhere on the hills a lamb was bleating, and near the crickets chirped. Yes, it was safe, perfectly safe, yet the blue gown moved where the heart thumped beneath it.

A whistle came floating down the valley to her. It was merry and quick, but it struck terror to the girl’s breast. That meant a man. She stood and watched, with terrified gray eyes, and presently she saw him: he was crashing through a heavy undergrowth of bush and fern not far away. Daphne gathered her skirts in one hand and fled. She ran as only an athletic girl can run, swiftly, gracefully. Her skirt fluttered behind her; her soft dark hair fell and floated on the wind.

The whistle did not cease, though the man was motionless now. It changed from its melody of sheer joy to wonder, amazement, suspense. It took on soothing tones; it begged, it wheedled. So a mother would whistle, if mothers whistled, over the cradle of a crying child, but the girl did not stop. She was running up a hill, and at the top she stood, outlined in blue, against a bluer sky. A moment later she was gone.

Half an hour passed. Cautiously above the top of the hill appeared a girl’s head. She saw what she was looking for: the dreaded man was sitting on the stump of a felled birch tree, gazing down the valley, his cheeks resting on his hands. Daphne, stealing behind a giant ilex, studied him. He wore something that looked like a golf suit of brownish shade; a soft felt hat drooped over his face. The girl peered out from her hiding place cautiously, holding her skirts together to make herself slim and small. It was a choice of evils. On this side of the hill was a man; on that, the whole wide world, pathless. She was hopelessly lost.

“No bad man could whistle like that,” thought Daphne, caressingly touching with her cheek the tree that protected her.

Once she ventured from her refuge, then swiftly retreated. Courage returning, she stepped out on tiptoe and crept softly toward the intruder. She was rehearsing the Italian phrases she meant to use.

“Where is Rome?” she asked pleadingly, in the Roman tongue.

The stranger rose, with no sign of being startled, and removed his hat. Then Daphne sighed a great sigh of relief, feeling that she was safe.

“Rome,” he answered, in a voice both strong and sweet, “Rome has perished, and Athens too.”

“Oh” said the girl. “You speak English. If you are not a stranger here, perhaps you can tell me where the Villa Accolanti is.”

“I can,” he replied, preparing to lead the way.

Daphne looked at him now. He was different from any person she had ever seen. Face and head belonged to some antique type of virile beauty; eyes, hair, and skin seemed all of one golden brown. He walked as if his very steps were joyous, and his whole personality seemed to radiate an atmosphere of firm content. The girl’s face was puzzled as she studied him. This look of simple happiness was not familiar in New York.

They strode on side by side, over the slopes where the girl had lost her way. Every moment added to her sense of trust.

“I am afraid I startled you,” she said, “coming up so softly.”

“No,” he answered smiling. “I knew that you were behind the ilex.”

“You couldn’t see!”

“I have ways of knowing.”

He helped her courteously over the one stone wall they had to climb, but, though she knew that he was watching her, he made no attempt to talk. At last they reached the ilex grove above the villa, and Daphne recognized home.

“I am grateful to you,” she said, wondering at this unwonted sense of being embarrassed. “Perhaps, if you will come some day to the villa for my sister to thank you” The sentence broke off. “I am Daphne Willis,” she said abruptly, and waited.

“And I am Apollo,” said the stranger gravely.

“Apollo what?” asked the girl. Did they use the old names over here?

“Phoebus Apollo,” he answered, unsmiling. “Is America so modern that you do not know the older gods?”

“Why do you call me an American?”

A smile flickered across Apollo’s lips.

“A certain insight goes with being a god.”

Daphne started back and looked at him, but the puzzled scrutiny did not deepen the color of his brown cheek. Suddenly she was aware that the sunlight had faded, leaving shadow under the ilexes and about the fountain on the hill.

“I must say good-night,” she said, turning to descend.

He stood watching every motion that she made until she disappeared within the yellow walls of the villa.