He was neither at the window, nor in his bed, nor anywhere else to be seen, when I opened my eyes upon the world next morning; nor did any answer come when I called his name. I raised myself and saw outside the great branches of the wood, bathed from top to trunk in a sunshine that was no early morning’s light; and upon this, the silence of the house spoke plainly to me not of man still sleeping, but of man long risen and gone about his business. I stepped barefoot across the wooden floor to where lay my watch, but it marked an unearthly hour, for I had neglected to wind it at the end of our long and convivial evening—of which my head was now giving me some news. And then I saw a note addressed to me from John Mayrant.
“You are a good sleeper,” it began, “but my conscience is clear as to the Bombo, called by some Kill-devil, about which I hope you will remember that I warned you.”
He hoped I should remember! Of course I remembered everything; why did he say that? An apology for his leaving me followed; he had been obliged to take the early train because of the Custom House, where he was serving his final days; they would give me breakfast when ever I should be ready for it, and I was to make free of the place; I had better visit the old church (they had orders about the keys) and drive myself into Kings Port after lunch; the horses would know the way, if I did not. It was the boy’s closing sentence which fixed my attention wholly, took it away from Kill-devil Bombo and my Aunt Carola’s commission, for the execution of which I now held the clue, and sent me puzzling for the right interpretation of his words:—
“I believe that you will help your friend by that advice which startled me last night, but which I now begin to see more in than I did. Only between alternate injuries, he may find it harder to choose which is the least he can inflict, than you, who look on, find it. For in following your argument, he benefits himself so plainly that the benefit to the other person is very likely obscured to him. But, if you wish to, tell him a Southern gentleman would feel he ought to be shot either way. That’s the honorable price for changing your mind in such a case.”
No interpretation of this came to me. I planned and carried out my day according to his suggestion; a slow dressing with much cold water, a slow breakfast with much good hot coffee, a slow wandering beneath the dreamy branches of Udolpho,—this course cleared my head of the Bombo, and brought back to me our whole evening, and every word I had said to John, except that I had lost the solution which, last night, the triangle had held for me. At that moment, the triangle, and my whole dealing with the subject of monogamy, had seemed to contain the simplicity of genius; but it had all gone now, and I couldn’t get it back; only, what I had contrived to say to John about his own predicament had been certainly well said; I would say that over again to-day.