by William Dean Howells
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.
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?”
“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.”