Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 6

Braybridge’s Offer


We had ordered our dinners and were sitting in the Turkish room at
the club, waiting to be called, each in his turn, to the dining-room. It
was always a cosey place, whether you found yourself in it with cigars
and coffee after dinner, or with whatever liquid or solid appetizer you
preferred in the half-hour or more that must pass before dinner after
you had made out your menu. It intimated an exclusive possession in the
three or four who happened first to find themselves together in it, and
it invited the philosophic mind to contemplation more than any other
spot in the club.

Our rather limited little down-town dining-club was almost a celibate
community at most times. A few husbands and fathers joined us at lunch;
but at dinner we were nearly always a company of bachelors, dropping in
an hour or so before we wished to dine, and ordering from a bill of fare
what we liked. Some dozed away in the intervening time; some read the
evening papers or played chess; I preferred the chance society of the
Turkish room. I could be pretty sure of finding Wanhope there in these
sympathetic moments, and where Wanhope was there would probably be
Rulledge, passively willing to listen and agree, and Minver ready to
interrupt and dispute. I myself liked to look in and linger for either
the reasoning or the bickering, as it happened, and now, seeing the
three there together, I took a provisional seat behind the painter, who
made no sign of knowing I was present. Rulledge was eating a caviar
sandwich, which he had brought from the afternoon tea-table near by, and
he greedily incited Wanhope to go on, in the polite pause which the
psychologist had let follow on my appearance, with what he was saying. I
was not surprised to find that his talk related to a fact just then
intensely interesting to the few, rapidly becoming the many, who were
privy to it; though Wanhope had the air of stooping to it from a higher
range of thinking.

“I shouldn’t have supposed, somehow,” he said, with
a knot of deprecation between his fine eyes, “that he would have
had the pluck.”

“Perhaps he hadn’t,” Minver suggested.

Wanhope waited for a thoughtful moment of censure eventuating in
toleration. “You mean that she—”

“I don’t see why you say that, Minver,” Rulledge
interposed, chivalrously, with his mouth full of sandwich.

“I didn’t say it,” Minver contradicted.

“You implied it; and I don’t think it’s fair.
It’s easy enough to build up a report of that kind on the
half-knowledge of rumor which is all that any outsider can have in the
case.”

“So far,” Minver said, with unbroken tranquillity,
“as any such edifice has been erected, you are the architect,
Rulledge. I shouldn’t think you would like to go round insinuating
that sort of thing. Here is Acton,” and he now acknowledged my
presence with a backward twist of his head, “on the alert for
material already. You ought to be more careful where Acton is,
Rulledge.”

“It would be great copy if it were true,” I owned.

Wanhope regarded us all three, in this play of our qualities, with
the scientific impartiality of a bacteriologist in the study of a
culture offering some peculiar incidents. He took up a point as remote
as might be from the personal appeal. “It is curious how little we
know of such matters, after all the love-making and marrying in life and
all the inquiry of the poets and novelists.” He addressed himself
in this turn of his thought, half playful, half earnest, to me, as if I
united with the functions of both a responsibility for their
shortcomings.

“Yes,” Minver said, facing about towards me. “How
do you excuse yourself for your ignorance in matters where you’re
always professionally making such a bluff of knowledge? After all the
marriages you have brought about in literature, can you say positively
and specifically how they are brought about in life?”

“No, I can’t,” I admitted. “I might say that
a writer of fiction is a good deal like a minister who continually
marries people without knowing why.”

“No, you couldn’t, my dear fellow,” the painter
retorted. “It’s part of your swindle to assume that you
do know why. You ought to find out.”

Wanhope interposed concretely, or as concretely as he could:
“The important thing would always be to find which of the lovers
the confession, tacit or explicit, began with.”

“Acton ought to go round and collect human documents bearing on
the question. He ought to have got together thousands of specimens from
nature. He ought to have gone to all the married couples he knew, and
asked them just how their passion was confessed; he ought to have sent
out printed circulars, with tabulated questions. Why don’t you do
it, Acton?”

I returned, as seriously as could have been expected:

“Perhaps it would be thought rather intimate. People
don’t like to talk of such things.”

“They’re ashamed,” Minver declared. “The
lovers don’t either of them, in a given case, like to let others
know how much the woman had to do with making the offer, and how little
the man.”

Minver’s point provoked both Wanhope and myself to begin a
remark at the same time. We begged each other’s pardon, and
Wanhope insisted that I should go on.

“Oh, merely this,” I said. “I don’t think
they’re so much ashamed as that they have forgotten the different
stages. You were going to say—?”

“Very much what you said. It’s astonishing how people
forget the vital things and remember trifles. Or perhaps as we advance
from stage to stage what once seemed the vital things turn to trifles.
Nothing can be more vital in the history of a man and a woman than how
they became husband and wife, and yet not merely the details, but the
main fact, would seem to escape record if not recollection. The next
generations knows nothing of it.”

“That appears to let Acton out,” Minver said. “But
how do you know what you were saying, Wanhope?”

“I’ve ventured to make some inquiries in that region at
one time. Not directly, of course. At second and third hand. It
isn’t inconceivable, if we conceive of a life after this, that a
man should forget, in its more important interests and occupations, just
how he quitted this world, or at least the particulars of the article of
death. Of course, we must suppose a good portion of eternity to have
elapsed.” Wanhope continued, dreamily, with a deep breath almost
equivalent to something so unscientific as a sigh: “Women are
charming, and in nothing more than the perpetual challenge they form for
us. They are born defying us to match ourselves with them.”

“Do you mean that Miss Hazelwood—” Rulledge began,
but Minver’s laugh arrested him.

“Nothing so concrete, I’m afraid,” Wanhope gently
returned. “I mean, to match them in graciousness, in loveliness,
in all the agile contests of spirit and plays of fancy. It’s
pathetic to see them caught up into something more serious in that other
game, which they are so good at.”

“They seem rather to like it, though, some of them, if you mean
the game of love,” Minver said. “Especially when
they’re not in earnest about it.”

“Oh, there are plenty of spoiled women,” Wanhope
admitted. “But I don’t mean flirting. I suppose that the
average unspoiled woman is rather frightened than otherwise when she
knows that a man is in love with her.”

“Do you suppose she always knows it first?” Rulledge
asked.

“You may be sure,” Minver answered for Wanhope,
“that if she didn’t know it, he never would.”
Then Wanhope answered for himself:

“I think that generally she sees it coming. In that sort of
wireless telegraphy, that reaching out of two natures through space
towards each other, her more sensitive apparatus probably feels the
appeal of his before he is conscious of having made any
appeal.”

“And her first impulse is to escape the appeal?” I
suggested.

“Yes,” Wanhope admitted, after a thoughtful
reluctance.

“Even when she is half aware of having invited it?”

“If she is not spoiled she is never aware of having invited it.
Take the case in point; we won’t mention any names. She is sailing
through time, through youthful space, with her electrical lures, the
natural equipment of every charming woman, all out, and suddenly,
somewhere from the unknown, she feels the shock of a response in the
gulfs of air where there had been no life before. But she can’t be
said to have knowingly searched the void for any presence.”

“Oh, I’m not sure about that, Professor,” Minver
put in. “Go a little slower, if you expect me to follow
you.”

“It’s all a mystery, the most beautiful mystery of
life,” Wanhope resumed. “I don’t believe I could make
out the case as I feel it to be.”

“Braybridge’s part of the case is rather plain,
isn’t it?” I invited him.

“I’m not sure of that. No man’s part of any case is
plain, if you look at it carefully. The most that you can say of
Braybridge is that he is rather a simple nature. But nothing,” the
psychologist added, with one of his deep breaths, “is so complex
as a simple nature.”

“Well,” Minver contended, “Braybridge is plain, if
his case isn’t.”

“Plain? Is he plain?” Wanhope asked, as if asking
himself.

“My dear fellow, you agnostics doubt everything!”

“I should have said picturesque. Picturesque, with the sort of
unbeautifulness that takes the fancy of women more than Greek
proportion. I think it would require a girl peculiarly feminine to feel
the attraction of such a man—the fascination of his being grizzled
and slovenly and rugged. She would have to be rather a wild, shy girl to
do that, and it would have to be through her fear of him that she would
divine his fear of her. But what I have heard is that they met under
rather exceptional circumstances. It was at a house in the Adirondacks,
where Braybridge was, somewhat in the quality of a bull in a china-shop.
He was lugged in by the host, as an old friend, and was suffered by the
hostess as a friend quite too old for her. At any rate, as I heard (and
I don’t vouch for the facts, all of them), Braybridge found
himself at odds with the gay young people who made up the
hostess’s end of the party, and was watching for a chance
to—”

Wanhope cast about for the word, and Minver supplied
it—“Pull out.”

“Yes. But when he had found it Miss Hazelwood took it from
him.”

“I don’t understand,” Rulledge said.

“When he came in to breakfast, the third morning, prepared with
an excuse for cutting his week down to the dimensions it had reached, he
saw her sitting alone at the table. She had risen early as a consequence
of having arrived late the night before; and when Braybridge found
himself in for it, he forgot that he meant to go away, and said
good-morning, as if they knew each other. Their hostess found them
talking over the length of the table in a sort of mutual fright, and
introduced them. But it’s rather difficult reporting a lady
verbatim at second hand. I really had the facts from Welkin, who had
them from his wife. The sum of her impressions was that Braybridge and
Miss Hazelwood were getting a kind of comfort out of their mutual terror
because one was as badly frightened as the other. It was a novel
experience for both. Ever seen her?”

We looked at one another. Minver said: “I never wanted to paint
any one so much. It was at the spring show of the American Artists.
There was a jam of people; but this girl—I’ve understood it
was she—looked as much alone as if there were nobody else there.
She might have been a startled doe in the North Woods suddenly coming
out on a twenty-thousand-dollar camp, with a lot of
twenty-million-dollar people on the veranda.”

“And you wanted to do her as The Startled Doe,” I said.
“Good selling name.”

“Don’t reduce it to the vulgarity of fiction. I admit it
would be a selling name.”

“Go on, Wanhope,” Rulledge puffed impatiently.
“Though I don’t see how there could be another soul in the
universe as constitutionally scared of men as Braybridge is of
women.”

“In the universe nothing is wasted, I suppose. Everything has
its complement, its response. For every bashful man, there must be a
bashful woman,” Wanhope returned.

“Or a bold one,” Minver suggested.

“No; the response must be in kind to be truly complemental.
Through the sense of their reciprocal timidity they divine that they
needn’t be afraid.”

“Oh! That’s the way you get out of
it!”

“Well?” Rulledge urged.

“I’m afraid,” Wanhope modestly confessed,
“that from this point I shall have to be largely conjectural.
Welkin wasn’t able to be very definite, except as to moments, and
he had his data almost altogether from his wife. Braybridge had told him
overnight that he thought of going, and he had said he mustn’t
think of it; but he supposed Braybridge had spoken of it to Mrs. Welkin,
and he began by saying to his wife that he hoped she had refused to hear
of Braybridge’s going. She said she hadn’t heard of it, but
now she would refuse without hearing, and she didn’t give
Braybridge any chance to protest. If people went in the middle of their
week, what would become of other people? She was not going to have the
equilibrium of her party disturbed, and that was all about it. Welkin
thought it was odd that Braybridge didn’t insist; and he made a
long story of it. But the grain of wheat in his bushel of chaff was that
Miss Hazelwood seemed to be fascinated by Braybridge from the first.
When Mrs. Welkin scared him into saying that he would stay his week out,
the business practically was done. They went picnicking that day in each
other’s charge; and after Braybridge left he wrote back to her, as
Mrs. Welkin knew from the letters that passed through her hands,
and—Well, their engagement has come out, and—” Wanhope
paused, with an air that was at first indefinite, and then
definitive.

“You don’t mean,” Rulledge burst out in a note of
deep wrong, “that that’s all you know about it?”

“Yes, that’s all I know,” Wanhope confessed, as if
somewhat surprised himself at the fact.

“Well!”

Wanhope tried to offer the only reparation in his power. “I can
conjecture—we can all conjecture—”

He hesitated; then: “Well, go on with your conjecture,”
Rulledge said, forgivingly.

“Why—” Wanhope began again; but at that moment a
man who had been elected the year before, and then gone off on a long
absence, put his head in between the dull-red hangings of the doorway.
It was Halson, whom I did not know very well, but liked better than I
knew. His eyes were dancing with what seemed the inextinguishable gayety
of his temperament, rather than any present occasion, and his smile
carried his little mustache well away from his handsome teeth.
“Private?”

“Come in! come in!” Minver called to him. “Thought
you were in Japan?”

“My dear fellow,” Halson answered, “you must brush
up your contemporary history. It’s more than a fortnight since I
was in Japan.” He shook hands with me, and I introduced him to
Rulledge and Wanhope. He said at once: “Well, what is it? Question
of Braybridge’s engagement? It’s humiliating to a man to
come back from the antipodes and find the nation absorbed in a parochial
problem like that. Everybody I’ve met here to-night has asked me,
the first thing, if I’d heard of it, and if I knew how it could
have happened.”

“And do you?” Rulledge asked.

“I can give a pretty good guess,” Halson said, running
his merry eyes over our faces.

“Anybody can give a good guess,” Rulledge said.
“Wanhope is doing it now.”

“Don’t let me interrupt.” Halson turned to him
politely.

“Not at all. I’d rather hear your guess, if you know
Braybridge better than I,” Wanhope said.

“Well,” Halson compromised, “perhaps I’ve
known him longer.” He asked, with an effect of coming to business:
“Where were you?”

“Tell him, Rulledge,” Minver ordered, and Rulledge
apparently asked nothing better. He told him, in detail, all we knew
from any source, down to the moment of Wanhope’s arrested
conjecture.

“He did leave you at an anxious point, didn’t he?”
Halson smiled to the rest of us at Rulledge’s expense, and then
said: “Well, I think I can help you out a little. Any of you know
the lady?”

“By sight, Minver does,” Rulledge answered for us.
“Wants to paint her.”

“Of course,” Halson said, with intelligence. “But I
doubt if he’d find her as paintable as she looks, at first.
She’s beautiful, but her charm is spiritual.”

“Sometimes we try for that,” the painter interposed.

“And sometimes you get it. But you’ll allow it’s
difficult. That’s all I meant. I’ve known her—let me
see—for twelve years, at least; ever since I first went West. She
was about eleven then, and her father was bringing her up on the ranch.
Her aunt came along by and by and took her to Europe—mother dead
before Hazelwood went out there. But the girl was always homesick for
the ranch; she pined for it; and after they had kept her in Germany
three or four years they let her come back and run wild again—wild
as a flower does, or a vine, not a domesticated animal.”

“Go slow, Halson. This is getting too much for the romantic
Rulledge.”

“Rulledge can bear up against the facts, I guess,
Minver,” Halson said, almost austerely. “Her father died two
years ago, and then she had to come East, for her aunt simply
wouldn’t live on the ranch. She brought her on here, and
brought her out; I was at the coming-out tea; but the girl didn’t
take to the New York thing at all; I could see it from the start; she
wanted to get away from it with me, and talk about the ranch.”

“She felt that she was with the only genuine person among those
conventional people.”

Halson laughed at Minver’s thrust, and went on amiably:
“I don’t suppose that till she met Braybridge she was ever
quite at her ease with any man—or woman, for that matter. I
imagine, as you’ve done, that it was his fear of her that gave her
courage. She met him on equal terms. Isn’t that it?”

Wanhope assented to the question referred to him with a nod.

“And when they got lost from the rest of the party at that
picnic—”

“Lost?” Rulledge demanded.

“Why, yes. Didn’t you know? But I ought to go back. They
said there never was anything prettier than the way she unconsciously
went for Braybridge the whole day. She wanted him, and she was a child
who wanted things frankly when she did want them. Then his being ten or
fifteen years older than she was, and so large and simple, made it
natural for a shy girl like her to assort herself with him when all the
rest were assorting themselves, as people do at such things. The
consensus of testimony is that she did it with the most transparent
unconsciousness, and—”

“Who are your authorities?” Minver asked; Rulledge threw
himself back on the divan and beat the cushions with impatience.

“Is it essential to give them?”

“Oh no. I merely wondered. Go on.”

“The authorities are all right. She had disappeared with him
before the others noticed. It was a thing that happened; there was no
design in it; that would have been out of character. They had got to the
end of the wood-road, and into the thick of the trees where there
wasn’t even a trail, and they walked round looking for a way out
till they were turned completely. They decided that the only way was to
keep walking, and by and by they heard the sound of chopping. It was
some Canucks clearing a piece of the woods, and when she spoke to them
in French they gave them full directions, and Braybridge soon found the
path again.”

Halson paused, and I said: “But that isn’t
all?”

“Oh no.” He continued thoughtfully silent for a little
while before he resumed. “The amazing thing is that they got lost
again, and that when they tried going back to the Canucks they
couldn’t find the way.”

“Why didn’t they follow the sound of the chopping?”
I asked.

“The Canucks had stopped, for the time being. Besides,
Braybridge was rather ashamed, and he thought if they went straight on
they would be sure to come out somewhere. But that was where he made a
mistake. They couldn’t go on straight; they went round and round,
and came on their own footsteps—or hers, which he recognized from
the narrow tread and the dint of the little heels in the damp
places.”

Wanhope roused himself with a kindling eye. “That is very
interesting, the movement in a circle of people who have lost their way.
It has often been observed, but I don’t know that it has ever been
explained. Sometimes the circle is smaller, sometimes it is larger, but
I believe it is always a circle.”

“Isn’t it,” I queried, “like any other error
in life? We go round and round, and commit the old sins over
again.”

“That is very interesting,” Wanhope allowed.

“But do lost people really always walk in a vicious
circle?” Minver asked.

Rulledge would not let Wanhope answer. “Go on, Halson,”
he said.

Halson roused himself from the revery in which he was sitting with
glazed eyes. “Well, what made it a little more anxious was that he
had heard of bears on that mountain, and the green afternoon light among
the trees was perceptibly paling. He suggested shouting, but she
wouldn’t let him; she said it would be ridiculous if the others
heard them, and useless if they didn’t. So they tramped on
till—till the accident happened.”

“The accident!” Rulledge exclaimed, in the voice of our
joint emotion.

“He stepped on a loose stone and turned his foot,” Halson
explained. “It wasn’t a sprain, luckily, but it hurt enough.
He turned so white that she noticed it, and asked him what was the
matter. Of course that shut his mouth the closer, but it morally doubled
his motive, and he kept himself from crying out till the sudden pain of
the wrench was over. He said merely that he thought he had heard
something, and he had an awful ringing in his ears; but he didn’t
mean that, and he started on again. The worst was trying to walk without
limping, and to talk cheerfully and encouragingly with that agony
tearing at him. But he managed somehow, and he was congratulating
himself on his success when he tumbled down in a dead faint.”

“Oh, come now!” Minver protested.

“It is like an old-fashioned story, where things are
operated by accident instead of motive, isn’t it?” Halson
smiled with radiant recognition.

“Fact will always imitate fiction, if you give her time
enough,” I said.

“Had they got back to the other picnickers?” Rulledge
asked, with a tense voice.

“In sound, but not in sight of them. She wasn’t going to
bring him into camp in that state; besides, she couldn’t. She got
some water out of the trout-brook they’d been fishing—more
water than trout in it—and sprinkled his face, and he came to, and
got on his legs just in time to pull on to the others, who were
organizing a search-party to go after them. From that point on she
dropped Braybridge like a hot coal; and as there was nothing of the
flirt in her, she simply kept with the women, the older girls, and the
tabbies, and left Braybridge to worry along with the secret of his
turned ankle. He doesn’t know how he ever got home alive; but he
did, somehow, manage to reach the wagons that had brought them to the
edge of the woods, and then he was all right till they got to the house.
But still she said nothing about his accident, and he couldn’t;
and he pleaded an early start for town the next morning, and got off to
bed as soon as he could.”

“I shouldn’t have thought he could have stirred in the
morning,” Rulledge employed Halson’s pause to say.

“Well, this beaver had to,” Halson said.
“He was not the only early riser. He found Miss Hazelwood at the
station before him.”

“What!” Rulledge shouted. I confess the fact rather
roused me, too; and Wanhope’s eyes kindled with a scientific
pleasure.

“She came right towards him. ‘Mr. Braybridge,’ says
she, ‘I couldn’t let you go without explaining my very
strange behavior. I didn’t choose to have these people laughing at
the notion of my having played the part of your preserver. It
was bad enough being lost with you; I couldn’t bring you into
ridicule with them by the disproportion they’d have felt in my
efforts for you after you turned your foot. So I simply had to ignore
the incident. Don’t you see?’ Braybridge glanced at her, and
he had never felt so big and bulky before, or seen her so slender and
little. He said, ‘It would have seemed rather
absurd,’ and he broke out and laughed, while she broke down and
cried, and asked him to forgive her, and whether it had hurt him very
much; and said she knew he could bear to keep it from the others by the
way he had kept it from her till he fainted. She implied that he was
morally as well as physically gigantic, and it was as much as he could
do to keep from taking her in his arms on the spot.”

“It would have been edifying to the groom that had driven her
to the station,” Minver cynically suggested.

“Groom nothing!” Halson returned with spirit. “She
paddled herself across the lake, and walked from the boat-landing to the
station.”

“Jove!” Rulledge exploded in uncontrollable
enthusiasm.

“She turned round as soon as she had got through with her hymn
of praise—it made Braybridge feel awfully flat—and ran back
through the bushes to the boat-landing, and—that was the last he
saw of her till he met her in town this fall.”

“And when—and when—did he offer himself?”
Rulledge entreated, breathlessly. “How—”

“Yes, that’s the point, Halson,” Minver interposed.
“Your story is all very well, as far as it goes; but Rulledge here
has been insinuating that it was Miss Hazelwood who made the offer, and
he wants you to bear him out.”

Rulledge winced at the outrage, but he would not stay Halson’s
answer even for the sake of righting himself.

“I have heard,” Minver went on, “that
Braybridge insisted on paddling the canoe back to the other shore for
her, and that it was on the way that he offered himself.” We
others stared at Minver in astonishment. Halson glanced covertly towards
him with his gay eyes. “Then that wasn’t true?”

“How did you hear it?” Halson asked.

“Oh, never mind. Is it true?”

“Well, I know there’s that version,” Halson said,
evasively. “The engagement is only just out, as you know. As to
the offer—the when and the how—I don’t know that
I’m exactly at liberty to say.”

“I don’t see why,” Minver urged. “You might
stretch a point for Rulledge’s sake.”

Halson looked down, and then he glanced at Minver after a furtive
passage of his eye over Rulledge’s intense face. “There was
something rather nice happened after—But, really, now!”

“Oh, go on!” Minver called out in contempt of his
scruple.

“I haven’t the right—Well, I suppose I’m on
safe ground here? It won’t go any further, of course; and it
was so pretty! After she had pushed off in her canoe, you know,
Braybridge—he’d followed her down to the shore of the
lake—found her handkerchief in a bush where it had caught, and he
held it up, and called out to her. She looked round and saw it, and
called back: ‘Never mind. I can’t return for it now.’
Then Braybridge plucked up his courage, and asked if he might keep it,
and she said ‘Yes,’ over her shoulder, and then she stopped
paddling, and said: ‘No, no, you mustn’t, you mustn’t!
You can send it to me.’ He asked where, and she said: ‘In
New York—in the fall—at the Walholland.’ Braybridge
never knew how he dared, but he shouted after her—she was paddling
on again—‘May I bring it?’ and she called
over her shoulder again, without fully facing him, but her profile was
enough: ‘If you can’t get any one to bring it for
you.’ The words barely reached him, but he’d have caught
them if they’d been whispered; and he watched her across the lake
and into the bushes, and then broke for his train. He was just in
time.”

Halson beamed for pleasure upon us, and even Minver said: “Yes,
that’s rather nice.” After a moment he added:
“Rulledge thinks she put it there.”

“You’re too bad, Minver,” Halson protested.
“The charm of the whole thing was her perfect innocence. She
isn’t capable of the slightest finesse. I’ve known her from
a child, and I know what I say.”

“That innocence of girlhood,” Wanhope said, “is
very interesting. It’s astonishing how much experience it
survives. Some women carry it into old age with them. It’s never
been scientifically studied—”

“Yes,” Minver allowed. “There would be a fortune
for the novelist who could work a type of innocence for all it was
worth. Here’s Acton always dealing with the most rancid
flirtatiousness, and missing the sweetness and beauty of a girlhood
which does the cheekiest things without knowing what it’s about,
and fetches down its game whenever it shuts its eyes and fires at
nothing. But I don’t see how all this touches the point that
Rulledge makes, or decides which finally made the offer.”

“Well, hadn’t the offer already been made?”

“But how?”

“Oh, in the usual way.”

“What is the usual way?”

“I thought everybody knew that. Of course, it was
from Braybridge finally, but I suppose it’s always six of
one and half a dozen of the other in these cases, isn’t it? I dare
say he couldn’t get any one to take her the handkerchief. My
dinner?” Halson looked up at the silent waiter, who had stolen
upon us and was bowing towards him.

“Look here, Halson,” Minver detained him, “how is
it none of the rest of us have heard all those details?”

I don’t know where you’ve been, Minver.
Everybody knows the main facts,” Halson said, escaping.

Wanhope observed, musingly: “I suppose he’s quite right
about the reciprocality of the offer, as we call it. There’s
probably, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, a perfect understanding
before there’s an explanation. In many cases the offer and the
acceptance must really be tacit.”

“Yes,” I ventured, “and I don’t know why
we’re so severe with women when they seem to take the initiative.
It’s merely, after all, the call of the maiden bird, and
there’s nothing lovelier or more endearing in nature than
that.”

“Maiden bird is good, Acton,” Minver approved. “Why
don’t you institute a class of fiction where the love-making is
all done by the maiden birds, as you call them—or the widow birds?
It would be tremendously popular with both sexes. It would lift an
immense responsibility off the birds who’ve been expected to
shoulder it heretofore if it could be introduced into real
life.”

Rulledge fetched a long, simple-hearted sigh. “Well, it’s
a charming story. How well he told it!”

The waiter came again, and this time signalled to Minver.

“Yes,” he said, as he rose. “What a pity you
can’t believe a word Halson says.”

“Do you mean—” we began simultaneously.

“That he built the whole thing from the ground up, with the
start that we had given him. Why, you poor things! Who could have told
him how it all happened? Braybridge? Or the girl? As Wanhope began by
saying, people don’t speak of their love-making, even when they
distinctly remember it.”

“Yes, but see here, Minver!” Rulledge said, with a dazed
look. “If it’s all a fake of his, how came you to
have heard of Braybridge paddling the canoe back for her?”

“That was the fake that tested the fake. When he adopted it, I
knew he was lying, because I was lying myself. And then the
cheapness of the whole thing! I wonder that didn’t strike you.
It’s the stuff that a thousand summer-girl stories have been spun
out of. Acton might have thought he was writing it!”

He went away, leaving us to a blank silence, till Wanhope managed to
say: “That inventive habit of mind is very curious. It would be
interesting to know just how far it imposes on the inventor
himself—how much he believes of his own fiction.”

“I don’t see,” Rulledge said, gloomily, “why
they’re so long with my dinner.” Then he burst out: “I
believe every word Halson said! If there’s any fake in the thing,
it’s the fake that Minver owned to.”

William Dean Howells

Sorry, no summary available yet.