"Ah, that I hope will never be. When I wrote to you from Liverpool I said I had something particular to tell you. You've never asked me what it is. Is it because you've suspected?"
"Suspected what? As a rule I don't think I suspect," said Isabel.
"I remember now that phrase in your letter, but I confess I had forgotten it. What have you to tell me?"
Henrietta looked disappointed, and her steady gaze betrayed it. "You don't ask that right — as if you thought it important. You're changed — you're thinking of other things."
"Tell me what you mean, and I'll think of that."
"Will you really think of it? That's what I wish to be sure of."
"I've not much control of my thoughts, but I'll do my best," said Isabel. Henrietta gazed at her, in silence, for a period which tried Isabel's patience, so that our heroine added at last: "Do you mean that you're going to be married?"
"Not till I've seen Europe!" said Miss Stackpole. "What are you laughing at?" she went on. "What I mean is that Mr. Goodwood came out in the steamer with me."
"Ah!" Isabel responded.
"You say that right. I had a good deal of talk with him; he has come after you."
"Did he tell you so?"
"No, he told me nothing; that's how I knew it," said Henrietta cleverly. "He said very little about you, but I spoke of you a good deal."
Isabel waited. At the mention of Mr. Goodwood's name she had turned a little pale. "I'm very sorry you did that," she observed at last.
"It was a pleasure to me, and I liked the way he listened. I could have talked a long time to such a listener; he was so quiet, so intense; he drank it all in."
"What did you say about me?" Isabel asked.
"I said you were on the whole the finest creature I know."
"I'm very sorry for that. He thinks too well of me already; he oughtn't to be encouraged."
"He's dying for a little encouragement. I see his face now, and his earnest absorbed look while I talked. I never saw an ugly man look so handsome."
"He's very simple-minded," said Isabel. "And he's not so ugly."
"There's nothing so simplifying as a grand passion."
"It's not a grand passion; I'm very sure it's not that."
"You don't say that as if you were sure."
Isabel gave rather a cold smile. "I shall say it better to Mr. Goodwood himself."
"He'll soon give you a chance," said Henrietta. Isabel offered no answer to this assertion, which her companion made with an air of great confidence. "He'll find you changed," the latter pursued. "You've been affected by your new surroundings."
"Very likely. I'm affected by everything."
"By everything but Mr. Goodwood!" Miss Stackpole exclaimed with a slightly harsh hilarity.
Isabel failed even to smile back and in a moment she said: "Did he ask you to speak to me?"
"Not in so many words. But his eyes asked it — and his handshake, when he bade me good-bye."
"Thank you for doing so." And Isabel turned away.
"Yes, you're changed; you've got new ideas over here," her friend continued.
"I hope so," said Isabel; "one should get as many new ideas as possible."
"Yes; but they shouldn't interfere with the old ones when the old ones have been the right ones."
Isabel turned about again. "If you mean that I had any idea with regard to Mr. Goodwood — !" But she faltered before her friend's implacable glitter.
"My dear child, you certainly encouraged him."
Isabel made for the moment as if to deny this charge; instead of which, however, she presently answered: "It's very true. I did encourage him." And then she asked if her companion had learned from Mr. Goodwood what he intended to do. It was a concession to her curiosity, for she disliked discussing the subject and found Henrietta wanting in delicacy.
"I asked him, and he said he meant to do nothing," Miss Stackpole answered. "But I don't believe that; he's not a man to do nothing. He is a man of high, bold action. Whatever happens to him he'll always do something, and whatever he does will always be right."
"I quite believe that." Henrietta might be wanting in delicacy, but it touched the girl, all the same, to hear this declaration.