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

There were two weeks of golden days. The sun rose clear over the green hills behind the villa, and dropped at night into the blue sea the other side of Rome. Daphne counted off the minutes in pulse beats that were actual pleasure. Between box hedges, past the clusters of roses, chrysanthemums, and dahlias in the villa garden, she walked, wondering that she had never known before that the mere crawling of the blood through the veins could mean joy. She was utterly alone, solitary, speechless; there were moments when the thought of her sister’s present trouble, and of the letter she was expecting from New York, would take the color from the sky; but no vexatious thought could long resist the enchantment of this air, and she forgot to be unhappy. She saw no more of the shepherd god, but always she was conscious of a presence in the sunshine on the hills.

On the eighth morning, as she paced the garden walks, a lizard scampered from her path, and she chased it as a five year old child might have done. A slim cypress tree stood in her way; she grasped it in her arms, and held it, laying her cheek against it as if it were a friend. Some new sense was dawning in her of kinship with branch and flower. She was forgetting how to think; she was Daphne, the Greek maiden, whose life was half the life of a tree.

When she took her arms from the tree she saw that he was there, looking at her from over the hedge, with the golden brown lights in eyes and hair, and the smile that had no touch of amusement in it, only of happiness.

“Sometimes,” he murmured, “you remind me of Hebe, but on the whole, I think you are more like my sister Diana.”

“Tell me about Diana,” begged Daphne, coming near the hedge and putting one hand on the close green leaves.

“We were great friends as children,” observed Apollo. “It was I who taught her how to hunt, and we used to chase each other in the woods. When I went faster then she did, she used to get angry and say she would not play. Oh, those were glorious mornings, when the light was clear at dawn!”

“Why are you here?” asked Daphne abruptly, “and, if you will excuse me, where did you come from?”

“Surely you have heard about the gods being exiled from Greece! We wander, for the world has cast us out. Some day they will need us again, and will pluck the grass from our shrines, and then we shall come back to teach them.”

“Teach them what?” asked the girl. She could make out nothing from the mystery of that face, and besides, she did not dare to look too closely.

“I should teach them joy,” he answered simply.

They were so silent, looking at each other over the dark green hedge, that the lizards crept back in the sunshine close to their feet. Daphne’s blue gown and smooth dark hair were outlined against the deep green of her cypress tree. A grapevine that had grown about the tree threw the shadow of delicate leaf and curling tendril on her pale cheek and scarlet lips. The expression of the heathen god as he looked at her denoted entire satisfaction.

“I know what you would teach them,” she said slowly. “You would show them how to ignore suffering and pain. You would turn your back on need. Oh, that makes me think that I have forgotten to take your friend Antoli any soup lately! For three days I took it, and then, and then I have been worried about things.”

His smile was certainly one of amusement now.

“You must pardon me for seeming to change the subject,” he said. “Why should you worry? There is nothing in life worth worrying about.”

Fine scorn crept into the girl’s face.

“No,” he continued, answering her expression. “I don’t ignore. I am glad because I have chosen to be glad, and because I have won my content. There is a strenuous peace for those who can fight their way through to it.”

Suddenly, through the beauty of his color, the girl saw, graven as with a fine tool upon his face, a story of grief mastered. In the lines of chin and mouth and forehead it lurked there, half hidden by his smile.

“Tell me,” said Daphne impulsively. Her hand moved nearer on the hedge, but she did not know it. He shook his head, and the veil dropped again.

“Why tell?” he asked. “Isn’t there present misery enough before our eyes always, without remembering the old?”

She only gazed at him, with a puzzled frown on her forehead.

“So you think it is your duty to worry?” he asked, the joyous note coming back into his voice.

Daphne broke into a smile.

“I suppose I do,” she confessed. “And it’s so hard here. I keep forgetting.”

“Why do you want to remember?”

“It is so selfish not to.”

He nodded, with an air of ancient wisdom.

“I have lived on this earth more years than you have, some thousands, you remember, and I can assure you that more people forget their fellows because of their own troubles than because of their own joys.”

The girl pulled at a tendril of the vine with her fingers, eyeing her companion keenly.

“I presume,” she said, with a tremor in her voice, “that you are an Englishman, or an American who has studied Greek thought deeply, being tired of modern people and modern ways, and that you are trying to get back to an older, simpler way of living.”

“It has ever been the custom,” said Apollo, gently taking the tendril of the vine from her fingers, “for a nation to refuse to believe the divinity of the others’ gods.”

“Anyway,” mused the girl, not quite conscious that she was speaking aloud, “whatever you think, you are good to the shepherd.”

He laughed outright.

“I find that most people are better than their beliefs,” he answered. “Now, Miss Willis, I wonder if I dare ask you questions about the way of living that has brought you to believe in the divine efficacy of unhappiness.”

“My father is a clergyman,” answered the girl, with a smile.

“Exactly!” said the heathen god.

“We have lived very quietly, in one of the streets of older New York. I won’t tell you the number, for of course it would not mean anything to you.”

“Of course not,” said Apollo.

“He is rector of a queer little old-fashioned church that has existed since the days of Washington. It is quaint and irregular, and I am very fond of it.”

“It isn’t the Little Church of All the Saints?” demanded her companion.

“It is. How did you know?”

“Divination,” he answered.

“Oh!” said Daphne. “Why don’t you divine the rest?”

“I should rather hear you tell it, if you don’t mind.”

“I have studied with my father a great deal,” she went on. “And then, there have been a great many social things, for I have an aunt who entertains a great deal, and she always needs me to help her. That has been fun, too.”

“Then it has been religion and dinners,” he summarized briefly.

“It has.”

“With a Puritan ancestry, I suppose?”

“For a god,” murmured Daphne, “it seems to me you know a great deal too much about some things, and not enough about others.”

“I have brought you something,” he said, suddenly changing the subject.

He lifted the sheepskin coat and held out to her a tiny lamb, whose heavy legs hung helpless, and whose skin shone pink through the little curls of wool. The girl stretched out her arms and gathered the little creature in them.

“A warm place to lie, and warm milk are what it needs,” he said. “It was born out of its time, and its mother lies dead on the hills. Spring is for birth, not autumn.”

Daphne watched him as he went back to his sheep, then turned toward the house. Giacomo and Assunta saw her coming in her blue dress between the beds of flowers with the lambkin in her arms.

“Like our Lady!” said Assunta, hurrying to the rescue.

The two brown ones asked no questions, possibly because of the difficulty of conversing with the Signorina, possibly from some profounder reason.

“Maybe the others do not see him,” thought the girl in perplexity. “Maybe I dream him, but this lamb is real.”

She sat in the sun on the marble steps of the villa, the lamb on her lap. A yellow bowl of milk stood on the floor, close to the little white head that dangled from her blue knee. Daphne, acting on Assunta’s directions, curled one little finger under the milk and offered the tip of it to the lamb to suck. He responded eagerly, and so she wheedled him into forgetfulness of his dead mother.

An hour later, as she paced the garden paths, a faint bleat sounded at the hem of her skirt, and four unsteady legs supported a weak little body that tumbled in pursuit of her.