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Braybridge’s Offer
by [?]

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?”