DAPHNE - AN AUTUMN PASTORAL
DAPHNE - AN AUTUMN PASTORAL
"Her Excellency--will she have the politeness" said Daphne
slowly reading from a tiny Italian-English phrase-book "the
politeness to"--She stopped helpless. Old Giacomo gazed at her
with questioning eyes. The girl turned the pages swiftly and
chose another phrase.
"I go" she announced "I go to make a walk."
Light flashed into Giacomo's face.
"Si si Signorina; yes yes" he assented with voice and
shoulders and a flourish of the spoon he was polishing.
"Capisco; I understand."
Daphne consulted her dictionary.
"Down there" she said gravely pointing toward the top of the
great hiII on whose side the villa stood.
"Certainly" answered Giacomo with a bow too much pleased by
understanding when there was no reason for it to be captious in
regard to the girl's speech. "The Signorina non ha paura not
"I'm not afraid of anything" was the answer in English. The
Italian version of it was a shaking of the head. Then both
dictionary and phrase-book were consulted.
"To return" she stated finally "to return to eat at six hours."
Then she looked expectantly about.
"Assunta?" she said inquiringly with a slight shrug of her
shoulders for other means of expression had failed.
"Capisco capisco" shouted Giacomo in his excitement trailing
on the marble floor the chamois skin with which he had been
polishing the silver and speaking in what seemed to his listener
one word of a thousand
Daphne looked dubiously at him though he had stated the case
with entire accuracy and had suggested for her solitary meal
what she most liked. There was a slight pucker in her white
forehead and she vouchsafed no answer to what she did not
"Addio addio" she said earnestly.
"A rivederla!" answered Giacomo with a courtly sweep of the
The girl climbed steadily up the moist steep path leading to the
deep shadow of a group of ilex trees on the hill. At her side a
stream of water trickled past drooping maidenhair fern and over
immemorial moss. Here and there it fell in little cascades
making a sleepy murmur in the warm air of afternoon.
Halfway up the hill Daphne paused and looked back. Below the
yellow walls of the Villa Accolanti standing in a wide garden
with encompassing poplars and cypresses sketched great grassy
slopes and gray-green olive orchards. The water from the stream
gathered in a stone basin at the foot of the hill flowed in a
marble conduit through the open hall. As she looked she was
aware of two old brown faces anxiously gazing after her. Giacomo
and Assunta were chattering eagerly in the doorway the black of
his butler's dress and the white of his protecting apron making
his wife's purple calico skirt and red shoulder shawl look more
gay. They caught the last flutter of the girl's blue linen gown
as it disappeared among the ilexes.
"E molto bello very beautiful the Signorina" remarked Assunta.
"What gray eyes she has and how she walks!"
"But she knows no speech" responded her husband.
"Ma che!" shouted Assunta scornfully "she talks American. You
couldn't expect them to speak like us over there. They are not
Romans in America."
"My brother Giovanni is there" remarked Giacomo. "She could
have learned of him."
"She is like the Contessa" said Assunta. "You would know they
are sisters only this one is younger and has something more
"This one is grave" objected Giacomo as he polished. "She does
not smile so much. The Contessa is gay. She laughs and sings
and her cheeks grow red when she drinks red wine and her hair is
"She makes it so!" snapped Assunta.
"I have heard they all do in Rome" said Giacomo. "Some day I
would like to go to see."
"To go away to leave this girl here alone with us when she had
just arrived!" interrupted Assunta. "I have no patience with
"But wasn't his Highness's father sick? And didn't she have to
go? Else they wouldn't get his money and all would go to the
younger brother. You don't understand these things you women."
Giacomo's defense of his lady got into his fingers and added
much to the brightness of the spoons. The two talked together
now as fast as human tongues could go.
Assunta. She could have taken the Signorina.
Giacomo. She couldn't. It's fever.
Assunta. She could have left her maid.
Giacomo. Thank the holy father she didn't!
Assunta. And without a word of language to make herself
Giacomo. She can learn can't she?
Assunta. And with the cook gone too! It's a great task for us.
Giacomo. You'd better be about it!... Going walking alone in
the hills! And calling me "Excellency." There's no telling what
Americans will do.
Assunta. She didn't know any better. When she has been here a
week she won't call you Excellency"! I must make macaroni for
Giacomo. Ma che! Macaroni? Roast chicken and salad.
Assunta. Niente! Macaroni!
Giacomo. Roast chicken! You are a pretty one to take the place
of the cook!
Assunta. Roast chicken then! But what are you standing here for
in the hall polishing spoons? If the Contessa could see you!
Assunta dragged her husband by the hem of his white apron through
the great marble-paved dining-room out into the smoke-browned
kitchen in the rear.
"Now where's Tommaso and how am I going to get my chicken?" she
demanded. "And why in the name of all the saints should an
American signorina's illustrious name be Daphne?"
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
There was no answer and she half closed her eyes intoxicated
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 millenium 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
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