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

“A man is ill,” observed Daphne, in the Roman tongue.

“What?” demanded Giacomo.

“A man is ill,” repeated Daphne firmly. She had written it out, and she knew that it was right.

“Her mind wanders,” Giacomo hinted to his wife.

“No, no, no! It’s the Signorina herself,” cried Assunta, whose wits were quicker than her husband’s. “She is saying that she is ill. What is it, Signorina mia? Is it your head, or your back, or your stomach? Are you cold? Have you fever?”

“Si,” answered Daphne calmly. The answer that usually quieted Assunta failed now. Then she tried the smile. That also failed.

“Tell me,” pleaded Assunta, speaking twice as fast as usual, in order to move the Signorina’s wits to quicker understanding. “If the Signorina is ill the Contessa will blame me. It is measles perhaps; Sor Tessa’s children have it in the village.” She felt of the girl’s forehead and pulse, and stood more puzzled than before.

“The Signorina exaggerates, perhaps?” she remarked in question.

“Thank you!” said Daphne beseechingly.

That was positively her last shot, and if it missed its aim she knew not what to do. She saw that the two brown faces before her were full of apprehension, and she came back to her original proposition.

“A man is ill.”

The faces were blank. Daphne hastily consulted her phrase-book.

“I wish food,” she remarked glibly. “I wish soup, and fish, and red wine and white, and everything included, tutto compreso.”

The brown eyes lighted; these were more familiar terms.

“Now?” cried Assunta and Giacomo in one breath, “at ten o’clock in the morning?”

“Si,” answered Daphne firmly, “please, thank you.” And she disappeared.

An hour later they summoned her, and looked at her in bewilderment when she entered the dining-room with her hat on. Giacomo stood ready for service, and the Signorina’s soup was waiting on the table.

The girl laughed when she saw it.

“Per me? No,” she said, touching her dress with her finger; “for him, up there,” and she pointed upward.

Giacomo shook his head and groaned, for his understanding was exhausted.

“I go to carry food to the man who is ill,” recited Daphne, her foot tapping the floor in impatience. She thrust her phrase-book out toward Giacomo, but he shook his head again, being one whose knowledge was superior to the mere accomplishment of reading.

Daphne’s short skirt and red felt hat disappeared in the kitchen. Presently she returned with Assunta and a basket. The two understood her immediate purpose now, however bewildering the ultimate. They packed the basket with a right good will: red wine in a transparent flask, yellow soup in a shallow pitcher, bread, crisp lettuce, and thin slices of beef. Then Daphne gave the basket to Giacomo and beckoned him to come after her.

He climbed behind his lady up the narrow path by the waterfalls through damp grass and trickling fern, then up the great green slope toward the clump of oak trees. By the low gray tent they halted, and Giacomo’s expression changed. He had not understood the Signorina, he said hastily, and he begged the Signorina’s pardon. She was good, she was gracious.

“Speak to him,” said Daphne impatiently; “go in, give him food.”

He lifted the loose covering that served as the side of a tent, and found the sick man. Giacomo chattered, his brown fingers moving swiftly by way of punctuation. The sick man chattered, too, his fingers moving more slowly in their weakness. Giacomo seemed excited by what he heard, and Daphne, watching from a little distance, wondered if fever must not increase under the influence of tongues that wagged so fast. She strolled away, picking tiny, pink-tipped daisies and blue succory blossoms growing in the moist green grass. From high on a distant hillside, among his nibbling sheep, the shepherd watched.

Giacomo presently stopped talking and fed the invalid the soup and part of the wine he had brought. He knew too much, as a wise Italian, to give a sick man bread and beef. Then he made promises of blankets, and of more soup to-morrow, tucked the invalid up again, and prepared to go home. On the way down the hill he was explosive in his excitement; surely the Signorina must understand such vehement words.

“The sheep are Count Gianelli’s sheep,” he shouted. “I knew the sheep before, and there isn’t a finer flock on the hills. This man is from Ortalo, a day’s journey. The Signorina understands?”

She smiled, the reassuring smile that covers ignorance. Then she came nearer, and bent her tall head to listen.

“His name is Antoli,” said Giacomo, speaking more distinctly. “Four days ago he fell ill with fever and with chills. He lay on the ground among the sheep, for he had only his blanket that the shepherds use at night. The sheep nibbled close to him, and touched his face with their tongues, and bit off hairs from his head as they cropped the grass, but they did not care. Sheep never do! Ah, how a dog cares! The Signorina wishes to hear the rest?”

Daphne nodded eagerly, for she had actually understood several sentences.

“The second day he felt a warm tongue licking his face, and there were paws on his breast as he waked from sleep. It was a white dog. He opened his eyes, and there before him was a Signorino, young, beautiful as a god, in a suit of brown. Since then Antoli has wanted nothing, food, nor warm covering, nor medicine, nor kind words. The Signorino wears his sheepskin coat and tends his sheep!”

Giacomo’s voice was triumphant with delight as he pointed toward the distant flock with the motionless attendant. The girl’s face shone, half in pleasure, half in fear. “Beautiful as a god” was more like the Italian she had read in her father’s study in New York than were the phrases Giacomo and Assunta employed for every day. She had comprehended all of her companion’s excitement, and many of his words, for much of the story was already hers.

“Giacomo,” she said, speaking slowly, “are the gods here yet?”

The old peasant looked at her with cunning eyes, and made with his fingers the sign of the horn that wards off evil.

Chi lo sa? Who knows, Signorina?” he said, half whispering. “There are stories I have heard the Signorina sees these ilex trees? Over yonder was a great one in my father’s day, and the old Count Accolanti would have it cut. He came to watch it as it fell, and the tree tumbled the wrong way and struck him so that he half lost his wits. There are who say that the tree god was angry. And I have heard about the streams, too, Signorina; when they are turned out of their course, they overflow and do damage, and surely there used to be river gods. I do not know; I cannot tell. The priest says they are all gone since the coming of our Lord, but I wouldn’t, not for all the gold in Rome, I wouldn’t see this stream of the waterfalls turned away from flowing down the hill and through the house. What there is in it I do not know, but in some way it is alive.”

“Thank you!” said Daphne. The look on her face pleased the old man.

“I think I prefer her to the Contessa after all,” said Giacomo that afternoon to Assunta as he was beating the salad dressing for dinner.

“She is simpatica! It is wonderful how she understands, though she cannot yet talk much. But her eyes speak.”

They served her dinner with special care that night, for kindness to an unfortunate fellow peasant had won what still needed winning of their hearts. She sat alone in the great dining-hall, with Giacomo moving swiftly about her on the marble floor. On the white linen and silver, on her face and crimson gown, gleamed the light of many candles, standing in old-fashioned branching candlesticks. She pushed away her soup; it seemed an intrusion. Not until she heard Giacomo’s murmur of disappointment as she refused salad did she rouse herself to do justice to the dressing he had made. Her eyes were the eyes of one living in a dream. Suddenly she wakened to the fact that she was hungry, and Giacomo grinned as she asked him to bring back the roast, and let him fill again with cool red wine the slender glass at her right hand. When the time for dessert came, she lifted a bunch of purple grapes and put them on her plate, breaking them off slowly with fingers that got stained.

“I shall wake up by and by!” she said, leaning back in her carved Florentine chair. “Only I hope it may be soon. Otherwise,” she added, nibbling a bit of ginger, unconscious that her figures were mixed, “I shall forget my way back to the world.”