“What is an equinox?” said Titania.
I pretended not to hear her and prayed fervently that the inquiry would pass from her mind. Sometimes her questions, if ignored, are effaced by some other thought that possesses her active brain. I rattled my paper briskly and kept well behind it.
“Yes,” I murmured husbandly, “delicious, delicious! My dear, you certainly plan the most delightful meals.” Meanwhile I was glancing feverishly at the daily Quiz column to see if that noble cascade of popular information might give any help. It did not.
Clear brown eyes looked across the table gravely. I could feel them through the spring overcoat ads.
“What is an equinox?”
“I think I must have left my matches upstairs,” I said, and went up to look for them. I stayed aloft ten minutes and hoped that by that time she would have passed on to some other topic. I did not waste my time, however; I looked everywhere for the “Children’s Book of a Million Reasons,” until I remembered it was under the dining-room table taking the place of a missing caster.
When I slunk into the living room again I hastily suggested a game of double Canfield, but Titania’s brow was still perplexed. Looking across at me with that direct brown gaze that would compel even a milliner to relent, she asked:
“What is an equinox?”
I tried to pass it off flippantly.
“A kind of alarm clock,” I said, “that lets the bulbs and bushes know it’s time to get up.”
“No; but honestly, Bob,” she said, “I want to know. It’s something about an equal day and an equal night, isn’t it?”
“At the equinox,” I said sternly, hoping to overawe her, “the day and the night are of equal duration. But only for one night. On the following day the sun, declining in perihelion, produces the customary inequality. The usual working day is much longer than the night of relaxation that follows it, as every toiler knows.”
“Yes,” she said thoughtfully, “but how does it work? It says something in this article about the days getting longer in the Northern Hemisphere, while they are getting shorter in the Southern.”
“Of course,” I agreed, “conditions are totally different south of Mason and Dixon’s line. But as far as we are concerned here, the sun, revolving round the earth, casts a beneficent shadow, which is generally regarded as the time to quit work. This shadow–“
“I thought the earth revolved round the sun,” she said. “Wasn’t that what Galileo proved?”
“He was afterward discovered to be mistaken,” I said. “That was what caused all the trouble.”
“What trouble?” she asked, much interested.
“Why, he and Socrates had to take hemlock or they were drowned in a butt of malmsey, I really forget which.”
“Well, after the equinox,” said Titania, “do the days get longer?”
“They do,” I said; “in order to permit the double-headers. And now that daylight saving is to go into effect, equinoxes won’t be necessary any more. Very likely the pan-Russian Soviets, or President Wilson, or somebody, will abolish them.”
“June 21 is the longest day in the year, isn’t it?”
“The day before pay-day is always the longest day.”
“And the night the cook goes out is always the longest night,” she retorted, catching the spirit of the game.
“Some day,” I threatened her, “the earth will stop rotating on its orbit, or its axis, or whatever it is, and then we will be like the moon, divided into two hostile hemispheres, one perpetual day and the other eternal night.”
She did not seem alarmed. “Yes, and I bet I know which one you’ll emigrate to,” she said. “But how about the equinoctial gales? Why should there be gales just then?”
I had forgot about the equinoctial gales, and this caught me unawares.
“That was an old tradition of the Phoenician mariners,” I said, “but the invention of latitude and longitude made them unnecessary. They have fallen into disrepute. Dead reckoning killed them.”
“And the precession of the equinoxes?” she asked, turning back to her magazine.
This was a poser, but I rallied stoutly. “Well,” I said, “you see, there are two equinoxes a year, the vernal and the autumnal. They are well known by coal dealers. The first one is when he delivers the coal and the second is when he gets paid. Two of them a year, you see, in the course of a million years or so, makes quite a majestic series. That is why they call it a procession.”
Titania looked at me and gradually her face broke up into a charming aurora borealis of laughter.
“I don’t believe you know any more about the old things than I do,” she said.
And the worst of it is, I think she was right.