The gondola curtains flapped closer in the breeze. The gondolier hummed a musical love-ditty, while his oars moved in slow rhythm. It was Venice and June.
Return from Italy.
To come back from the sweet
South, to the North
Where I was born, bred, look to die;
Come back to do my day’s work in its day,
Play out my play—
Amen, amen say I.
[Illustration: MILAN CATHEDRAL.]
When Robert Sumner and Barbara returned, they found Mrs. Douglas alone. At the first glance she knew that all was well, and received them with smiles, and tears, and warm expressions of delight.
In a moment, however, Barbara—her eyes still shining with the wonder of it all—gently disengaged herself from Mrs. Douglas’s embrace and went in search of her sister.
“Aren’t you thoroughly astonished, Betty dear?” she asked, after she had told the wonderful news.
“Yes, Bab; more than astonished.”
And Bettina’s quibble can surely be forgiven. Not yet has she told her sister of the important part played by herself in bringing the love-affair to so happy a consummation; nor has Robert Sumner forgotten her prayer, “never, never tell Barbara!”
When evening came and Barbara was out on the balcony with Mr. Sumner, while the others were talking gayly of the happy event, Bettina suddenly felt an unaccountable choking in the throat. She hurried to her room, and there, in spite of every effort, had to give up to a good cry. She could not have told the cause, but we, the only ones beside herself who know this pitiful ending of all her bravery, understand and sympathize with her.
An hour later, when she had conquered herself and was coming slowly down the staircase, she found Malcom waiting to waylay her. Drawing her arm within his, and merrily assuming something of a paternal air, he said:—
“Now that this little family affair has reached a thoroughly satisfactory culmination, I trust that things will again assume their normal appearance. For the past month or so Barbara has been most distraite; uncle has so evidently tried to be cheerful that the effort has been distressing; and you, little Lady Betty, have been racking your precious brains for a scheme to make things better.”
“And you, Malcom,” she retorted, “have had so much sympathy with us all that wrinkles have really begun to appear on your manly brow.” And she put up her hand lightly as if to smooth them away.
“Look out, Betty!” with a curious flash of the eyes, as he seized her hand and held it tightly. “The atmosphere is rather highly charged these days.”
Bettina’s face slowly flushed as she tried to make some laughing rejoinder, and a strange painful shyness threatened to overtake her when Malcom, with a smile and a steady look into her eyes, set her free.