“Oh! more than words can tell! Betty, I believe, next to our own dear papa, he is the grandest man alive. I always feel when he talks as if nothing were too difficult to attempt; as if nothing were too beautiful to believe. And he is so young too, in feeling; so wise and yet so full of sympathy with all our young nonsense. He is simply perfect.” And she drew a long breath.
“I think so too; and he practises what he preaches in his own painting. For don’t you remember those pictures we saw in his studio the other day? How he has painted those Egyptian scenes! A perfect tremor ran over me as I felt the terrible, solemn loneliness of that one camel and his rider in the limitless stretch of desert. I felt quite as he must have felt, I am sure; and the desert will always seem a different thing to me because I looked at that picture. And then that sweet, strong, overcoming woman’s face! How much she had lived through! What a lesson of triumph over all weakness and sorrow it teaches! I am so thankful every minute that dear Mrs. Douglas asked us to come with her, that our darling papa and mamma allowed us to come, and that everything is so pleasant in this dear, delightful Florence.”
And Bettina fell asleep almost the minute her head rested on her pillow, with a happy smile curving her beautiful lips.
But Barbara tossed long on the little white bed in the opposite corner of the room. It was difficult to go to sleep, so many thoughts crowded upon her. Finally she resolutely set herself to recall Mr. Sumner’s words of the evening. Then, as she remembered the little lingering of his eyes upon her own as he bade his group of listeners good night, the glad thought came, “He knows I am trying to learn, and that I appreciate all he is doing for me,” and so her last thought was not for the new friend the day had brought, but for Robert Sumner.
Straws Show which Way the Wind Blows.
Give these, I exhort you,
their guerdon and glory
For daring so much before they well did it.
[Illustration: SANTA MARIA NOVELLA, FLORENCE.]
It was a charming morning in early November when Mr. Sumner and his little company of students of Florentine art gathered before the broad steps which lead up to the entrance of Santa Maria Novella. The Italian sky, less soft than in midsummer, gleamed brightly blue. The square tower of the old Fiesole Cathedral had been sharply defined as they turned to look at it when leaving their home; and Giotto’s Campanile, of which they had caught a glimpse on their way hither, shone like a white lily in the morning sunlight. The sweet, invigorating air, the bustle of the busy streets, the happiness of youth and pleasant expectancy caused all hearts to beat high, and it was a group of eager faces that turned toward the grand old church whose marble sides show the discoloration of centuries.