“Advise who right?” inquired John Mayrant.
It helped me wonderfully. My will gripped my floating thoughts and held them to it. “Friend of mine in trouble; though why he asks me when I’m not married—I’d be married now, you know, but afraid of only one wife. Man doesn’t love twice; loves thrice, four, six, lots of times; but they say only one wife. Ought to be two, anyhow. Much easier for man to marry then.”
“Wouldn’t it be rather immoral?” John asked.
“Morality is queer thing. Like kaleidoscope. New patterns all the time. Abraham and wives—perfectly respectable. You take Pharaohs—or kings of that sort—married own sisters. All right then. Perfectly horrible now, of course. But you ask men about two wives. They’d say something to be said for that idea. Only there are the women, you know. They’d never. But I’m going to tell my friend he’s doing wrong. Going to write him to-night. Where’s ink?”
“It won’t go to-night,” said John. “What are you going to tell him?”
“Going to tell him, since only one wife, wicked not to break his engagement.”
John looked at me very hard, as he stood by the window, leaning on the sill. But my will was getting all the while a stronger hold, and my thoughts were less and less inclined to stray to other world-problems; moreover, below the confusion that still a little reigned in them was the primal cunning of the old Adam, the native man, quite untroubled and alert—it saw John’s look at me and it prompted my course.
“Yes,” I said. “He wants the truth from me. Where’s his letter? No harm reading you without names.” And I fumbled in my pocket.
“Letter gone. Never mind. Facts are: friend’s asked girl. Girl’s said yes. Now he thinks he’s bound by that.”
“He thinks right,” said John.
“Not a bit of it. You take Tannhauser. Engagement to Venus all a mistake. Perfectly proper to break it. Much more than proper. Only honorable thing he could do. I’m going to write it to him. Where’s ink?” And I got up.
John came from his window and sat down at the table. His glass was empty, his cigar gone out, and he looked at me. But I looked round the room for the ink, noting in my search the big fireplace, simple, wooden, unornamented, but generous, and the plain plaster walls of the lodge, whereon hung two or three old prints of gamebirds; and all the while I saw John out of the corner of my eye, looking at me.
He spoke first. “Your friend has given his word to a lady; he must stand by it like a gentleman.
“Lot of difference,” I returned, still looking round the room, “between spirit and letter. If his heart has broken the word, his lips can’t make him a gentleman.”
John brought his fist down on the table. “He had no business to get engaged to her! He must take the consequences.”
That blow of the fist on the table brought my thoughts wholly clear and fixed on the one subject; my will had no longer to struggle with them, they worked of themselves in just the way that I wanted them to do.