A groan was the young man's only reply; while his convulsed features and the deep wrinkles that chased each other across his manly brow, revealed the abyss of arithmetical agony into which one chance question had plunged him.



Straight down the crooked lane,
And all round the square.

`Let's ask Balbus about it,' said Hugh.

`All right,' said Lambert.

`He can guess it,' said Hugh.

`Rather,' said Lambert.

No more words were needed; the two brothers understood each other perfectly.

Balbus was waiting for them at the hotel: the journey down had tired him, he said: so his two pupils had been the round of the place, in search of lodgings, without the old tutor who had been their inseparable companion from their childhood. They had named him after the hero of their Latin exercise-book, which overflowed with anecdotes of that versatile genius--anecdotes whose vagueness in detail was more than compensated by their sensational brilliance. `Balbus has overcome all his enemies' had been marked by their tutor, in the margin of the book, `Successful Bravery'. In this way he had tried to extract a moral from every anecdote about Balbus--sometimes one of warning, as in, `Balbus had borrowed a healthy dragon', against which he had written, `Rashness in Speculation'--sometimes of encouragement, as in the words, `Influence of Sympathy in United Action', which stood opposite to the anecdote, `Balbus was assisting his mother-in-law to convince the dragon'--and sometimes it dwindled down to a single word, such as `Prudence', which was all he could extract from the touching record that `Balbus, having scorched the tail of the dragon, went away'. His pupils liked the short morals best, as it left them more room for marginal illustrations, and in this instance they required all the space they could get to exhibit the rapidity of the hero's departure.

Their report of the state of things was discouraging. That most fashionable of watering-places, Little Mendip, was `chock-full' (as the boys expressed it) from end to end. But in one Square they had seen no less than four cards, in different houses, all announcing in flaming capitals, `ELIGIBLE APARTMENTS'. `So there's plenty of choice, after all, you see,' said spokesman Hugh in conclusion.

`That doesn't follow from the data,' said Balbus, as he rose from the easychair, where he had been dozing over The Little Mendip Gazette. `They may be all single rooms. However, we may as well see them. I shall be glad to stretch my legs a bit.'

An unprejudiced bystander might have objected that the operation was needless, and that this long lank creature would have been all the better with even shorter legs: but no such thought occurred to his loving pupils. One on each side, they did their best to keep up with his gigantic strides, while Hugh repeated the sentence in their father's letter, just received from abroad, over which he and Lambert had been puzzling. `He says a friend of his, the Governor of--what was that name again, Lambert?' (`Kgovjni,' said Lambert.) `Well, yes. The Governor of--what-you-may-call-it--wants to give a very small dinner-party, and he means to ask his father's brother-in-law, his brother's father-in-law, his father-in-law's brother, and his brother-in-law's father: and we're to guess how many guests there will be.'

There was an anxious pause. `How large did he say the pudding was to be?' Balbus said at last. `Take its cubical contents, divide by the cubical contents of what each man can eat, and the quotient--'

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