She struggled bravely to be her old self,—to hide everything from all eyes. But she felt so wofully humiliated, for she now knew for the first time that she loved Robert Sumner; loved him so that it was positive agony to think that he might love another,—so that it was almost a pain to remember that he had ever loved. What would he think should he suspect the truth! And she was so fearful that her eyes might give a hint of it that, try in as many ways as he could, Mr. Sumner could never get a good look into them during these days. The kinder he was, and the more zealously he endeavored to add to her comfort and happiness, the more wretched she grew. She longed to get away from everybody, even from Betty, lest her secret might become apparent to the keen sisterly affection that knew her so intimately. She began to feel a fierce longing for home and for father and mother; and the months which must necessarily elapse before she could be there stretched drearily before her.
Robert Sumner was perplexed and distressed. He had just begun to enjoy a certain happiness. The struggle within himself was over, and he was beginning to give himself up to the delight of thinking freely of Barbara; of loving her; of feeling a sort of possession of her, though he did not yet dream of such a thing as ever being to her more than he now was,—a valued friend. There were so many years, and an experience of life that counted far more than years, between them!
He had listened to his sister’s conversation with Miss Sherman on the way from Pompeii to Sorrento with an exultation which it would have been difficult for him to account for. He gloried in the sweet unselfishness, the simple goodness of the young girl. “My little Barbara,” his heart sang; and full of this emotion when they reached Sorrento, he allowed the two ladies to go alone into the hotel, while he waited impatiently to look into Barbara’s face and to feel the touch of her hand.
But what a change! What could have wrought it? Before this, she had always met his look with such frank sympathy! As the days passed on without change, and his eyes, more than any others, noticed the struggle to conceal her unhappiness, the mystery deepened.
Robert Sumner is Imprudent.
Our indiscretion sometimes serves us well— When our deep plots do pall; and that should teach us, There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, Rough-hew them how we will.
[Illustration: CAMPO SANTO, BOLOGNA.]
Early one morning very soon after the return to Rome, Bettina, with a troubled face, knocked at Mrs. Douglas’s door.
“Barbara is ill,” said she. “I knew in the night that she was very restless, but not until just now did I see that she is really ill.”
“What seems to be the matter?”
“I think she must be very feverish.”