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

Through the great open windows of the room night with all her stars was shining. Daphne sat by a carved table in the salon, the clear light of a four-flamed Roman lamp falling on her hair and hands. She was writing a letter, and, judging by her expression, letter writing was a matter of life and death.

“I am afraid that I was brutal,” the wet ink ran. “Every day on the sea told me that. I was cowardly too.”

She stopped to listen to the silence, broken only by the murmur of insects calling to each other in the dark. Suddenly she laughed aloud.

“I ought never to have gone so far away,” she remarked to the night. “What would Aunt Alice say? Anyway he is a gentleman, even if he is a god!”

“For I thought only of myself,” the pen continued, “and ignored the obligations I had accepted. It is for you to choose whether you wish the words of that afternoon unsaid.”

The letter signed and sealed, she rose with a great sigh of relief, and walked out upon the balcony. Overhead was the deep blue sky of a Roman night, broken by the splendor of the stars. She leaned over the stone railing of the balcony, feeling beneath her, beyond the shadow of the cypress trees, the distance and darkness of the Campagna. There was a murmur of water from the fountain in the garden, and from the cascades on the hill.

“If he were Apollo,” she announced to the listening stars, “it would not be a bit more wonderful than the rest of it. This is just a different world, that is all, and who knows whom I shall meet next? Maybe, if I haunt the hills, Diana will come and invite me to go a-hunting. Perhaps if Anna had stayed at home this world would seem nearer.”

She came back into the salon, but before she knew it, her feet were moving to a half-remembered measure, and she found herself dancing about the great room in the dim light, the cream-colored draperies of her dinner gown moving rhythmically after her. Suddenly she stopped short, realizing that her feet were keeping pace with the whistling of this afternoon, the very notes that had terrified her while the stranger was unseen. She turned her attention to a piece of tapestry on the wall, tracing the faded pattern with slim fingers. For the twentieth time her eyes wandered to the mosaic floor, to the splendid, tarnished mirrors on the walls, to the carved chairs and table legs, wrought into cunning patterns of leaf and stem.

“Oh, it is all perfect! and I’ve got it all to myself!” she exclaimed.

Then she seated herself at the table again and began another letter.

Padre mio, It is an enchanted country! You never saw such beauty of sky and grass and trees. These cypresses and poplars seem to have been standing against the blue sky from all eternity; time is annihilated, and the gods of Greece and Rome are wandering about the hills.

Anna has gone away. Her father-in-law is very ill, and naturally Count Accolanti is gone too. Even the cook has departed, because of a family crisis of his own. I am here with the butler and his wife to take care of me, and I am perfectly safe. Don’t be alarmed, and don’t tell Aunt Alice that the elaborate new gowns will have no spectators save two Roman peasants and possibly a few sheep. Anna wanted to send me an English maid from Rome, but I begged with tears, and she let me off. Assunta is all I need. She and Giacomo are the real thing, peasants, and absolutely unspoiled. They have never been five miles away from the estate, and I know they have all kinds of superstitions and beliefs that go with the soil. I shall find them out when I can understand. At present we converse with eyes and fingers, for our six weeks’ study of Italian has not brought me knowledge enough to order my dinner.

Padre carissimo, I’ve written to Eustace to take it all back. I am afraid you won’t like it, for you seemed pleased when it was broken off, but I was unkind and I am sorry, and I want to make amends. You really oughtn’t to disapprove of a man, you know, just because he wants altar candles and intones the service. And I think his single-minded devotion is beautiful. You do not know what a refuge it has been to me through all Aunt Alice’s receptions and teas.

Do leave New York, and come and live with me near ancient Rome. We can easily slip back two thousand years.

I am your spoiled daughter, Daphne

There was a knock at the door.

Avanti,” called the girl.

Assunta entered, with a saffron-colored night-cap on. In her hand she held Giacomo’s great brass watch, and she pointed in silence to the face, which said twelve o’clock. She put watch and candle on the table, marched to the windows, and closed and bolted them all.

“The candles are lighted in the Signorina’s bedroom,” she remarked.

“Thank you,” said Daphne, who did not understand a word.

“The bed is prepared, and the night things are put out.”

“Yes?” answered Daphne, smiling.

“The hot water will be at the door at eight in the morning.”

“So many thanks!” murmured Daphne, not knowing what favor was bestowed, but knowing that if it came from Assunta it was good.

“Good-night, Signorina.”

The girl’s face lighted. She understood that.

“Good-night,” she answered, in the Roman tongue.

Assunta muttered to herself as she lighted her way with her candle down the long hall.

Molto intelligente, la Signorina! Only here three days, and already understands all.”

“You don’t need speech here,” said Daphne, pulling aside the curtains of her tapestried bed a little later. “The Italians can infer all you mean from a single smile.”

Down the road a peasant was merrily beating his donkey to the measure of the tune on his lips. Listening, and turning over many questions in her mind, Daphne fell asleep. A flood of sunshine awakened her in the morning, and she realized that Assunta was drawing the window curtains.

“Assunta,” asked the girl, sitting up in bed and rubbing her eyes, “are there many Americans here?”

“Si,” answered Assunta, “very many.”

“And many English?”

“Too many,” said Assunta.

“Young ones?” asked the girl.

Assunta shrugged her shoulders.

“Young men?” inquired Daphne.

The peasant woman looked sharply at her, then smiled.

“I saw one man yesterday,” said Daphne, her forehead puckered painfully in what Assunta mistook for a look of fear. Her carefully prepared phrases could get no nearer the problem she wished solved.

Ma che! agnellina mia, my little lamb!” cried the peasant woman, grasping Daphne’s hand in order to kiss her fingers, “you are safe, safe with us. No Americans nor English shall dare to look at the Signorina in the presence of Giacomo and me.”