"The position of woman's very uncomfortable. Is that what you mean? And you wrote it down and published it?" the Countess went on. "Ah, do let me see it!"
"I'll write to them to send you the paper if you like," Henrietta said. "I didn't mention your name; I only said a lady of high rank. And then I quoted your views."
The Countess threw herself hastily backward, tossing up her clasped hands. "Do you know I'm rather sorry you didn't mention my name? I should have rather liked to see my name in the papers. I forget what my views were; I have so many! But I'm not ashamed of them. I'm not at all like my brother — I suppose you know my brother? He thinks it a kind of scandal to be put in the papers; if you were to quote him he'd never forgive you."
"He needn't be afraid; I shall never refer to him," said Miss Stackpole with bland dryness. "That's another reason," she added, "why I wanted to come to see you. You know Mr. Osmond married my dearest friend."
"Ah, yes; you were a friend of Isabel's. I was trying to think what I knew about you."
"I'm quite willing to be known by that," Henrietta declared. "But that isn't what your brother likes to know me by. He has tried to break up my relations with Isabel."
"Don't permit it," said the Countess.
"That's what I want to talk about. I'm going to Rome."
"So am I!" the Countess cried. "We'll go together."
"With great pleasure. And when I write about my journey I'll mention you by name as my companion."
The Countess sprang from her chair and came and sat on the sofa beside her visitor. "Ah, you must send me the paper! My husband won't like it, but he need never see it. Besides, he doesn't know how to read."
Henrietta's large eyes became immense. "Doesn't know how to read? May I put that into my letter?"
"Into your letter?"
"In the Interviewer. That's my paper."
"Oh yes, if you like; with his name. Are you going to stay with Isabel?"
Henrietta held up her head, gazing a little in silence at her hostess. "She has not asked me. I wrote to her I was coming, and she answered that she would engage a room for me at a pension. She gave no reason."
The Countess listened with extreme interest. "The reason's Osmond," she pregnantly remarked.
"Isabel ought to make a stand," said Miss Stackpole. "I'm afraid she has changed a great deal. I told her she would."
"I'm sorry to hear it; I hoped she would have her own way. Why doesn't my brother like you?" the Countess ingenuously added.
"I don't know and I don't care. He's perfectly welcome not to like me; I don't want every one to like me; I should think less of myself if some people did. A journalist can't hope to do much good unless he gets a good deal hated; that's the way he knows how his work goes on. And it's just the same for a lady. But I didn't expect it of Isabel."
"Do you mean that she hates you?" the Countess enquired.
"I don't know; I want to see. That's what I'm going to Rome for."
"Dear me, what a tiresome errand!" the Countess exclaimed.
"She doesn't write to me in the same way; it's easy to see there's a difference. If you know anything," Miss Stackpole went on, "I should like to hear it beforehand, so as to decide on the line I shall take."
The Countess thrust out her under lip and gave a gradual shrug. "I know very little; I see and hear very little of Osmond. He doesn't like me any better than he appears to like you."
"Yet you're not a lady correspondent," said Henrietta pensively.
"Oh, he has plenty of reasons. Nevertheless they've invited me — I'm to stay in the house!" And the Countess smiled almost fiercely; her exultation, for the moment, took little account of Miss Stackpole's disappointment.
This lady, however, regarded it very placidly. "I shouldn't have gone if she HAD asked me. That is I think I shouldn't; and I'm glad I hadn't to make up my mind. It would have been a very difficult question. I shouldn't have liked to turn away from her, and yet I shouldn't have been happy under her roof. A pension will suit me very well. But that's not all."
"Rome's very good just now," said the Countess; "there are all sorts of brilliant people. Did you ever hear of Lord Warburton?"
"Hear of him? I know him very well. Do you consider him very brilliant?" Henrietta enquired.
"I don't know him, but I'm told he's extremely grand seigneur. He's making love to Isabel."
"Making love to her?"
"So I'm told; I don't know the details," said the Countess lightly. "But Isabel's pretty safe."
Henrietta gazed earnestly at her companion; for a moment she said nothing. "When do you go to Rome?" she enquired abruptly.
"Not for a week, I'm afraid."
"I shall go to-morrow," Henrietta said. "I think I had better not wait."