The Professor was working in his garden. It was one of his few relaxations, and he took it as seriously as a problem. He had great success with flowers, owing to what he called his system. He was methodical as a machine in everything he did, so the plants were fed with the regularity of hospital patients, and flourished accordingly. To-day he was in pursuit of slugs. He followed up one row, and down the next, slaying with the ruthlessness of fate.
The general effect of his garden was rather striking. He laid out each bed in the shape of an arithmetical figure. The pansy beds were in figure eights, the nasturtiums were pruned and ordered into stubby figure ones, while the asters and fall flowers ranged from fours to twenties.
The Professor carried his arithmetical sense to extremes. He insisted that figures had personality, just as people have, and it was a favourite method of his to nickname his friends and pupils according to a numeral. He was watching the death-throes of a slug, with scientific indifference, as his son-in-law approached him, carrying a wide-brimmed hat.
“Professor Parkhurst, your daughter desires you to put on your hat. You forgot it.”
“Oh, yes. Thank you!”
“I should like the opportunity of a few words with you, sir, if you can spare the time.”
“Well, I cannot. My time is very precious. If you desire to walk along with me while I destroy these slugs, I will listen to what you say.”
He pursued his course, and Jarvis, perforce, followed.
“I have been in your house for a week, now, Professor Parkhurst, and I have merely encountered you at meals.”
“Often enough,” said the Professor, making a sudden turn that almost upset Jarvis. “I go fifty steps up, and fifty steps back,” he explained, and Jarvis stared at him open-mouthed.
“You count your steps?” he repeated.
“Certainly, no matter what I do, I count. When I eat, when I sleep, walk, talk, think, I always count.”
“How awful! A human metronome. I must make a note of that.” And Jarvis took out a notebook to make an entry.
“You have the notebook habit?” snorted the Professor.
“Yes, I can’t afford to waste ideas, suggestions, thoughts.”
“Bah! A most offensive habit.”
“I gather, from your general attitude,” Jarvis began again, “that you dislike me.”
“I neither like nor dislike you. I don’t know you.”
“You never will know me, at this rate.”
“I am not sure that I care to.”
“Why not? What have you against me?”
“You are not practical.”
“Do you consider yourself practical?”
“I do. I am the acme of practical. I am mathematical.”
He slew another bug.
“How can you do that?” cried Jarvis, his concern in his face. “That slug has a right to life. Why don’t you get the point of view of the slug?”