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The Unsolved Problem
by [?]

“Eliza,” I said one evening, “do you think that you are fonder of me than I am of you, or that I am fonder of you than you are of me?”

She answered, “What is thirteen from twenty-eight?” without looking up from the account-book.

“I do think,” I said, “that when I speak to you you might have the civility to pay some little attention.”

She replied, “One pound fifteen and two, and I hope you know where we are to get it from, for I don’t. And don’t bang on the table in that silly way, or you’ll spill the ink.”

“I did not bang. I tapped slightly from a pardonable impatience. I put a plain question to you some time ago, and I should like a plain answer to it.”

“Well, what do you want to talk for when you see I am counting? Now, what is it?”

“What I asked was this. Do I think–I mean, do you think–that I am fonder of me–no, you are fonder of I–well, I’ll begin again. Which of us two would you say was fonder of the other than the other was of the–dash it all, you know what I mean!”

“No, I don’t, but it’s nothing to swear about.”

“I was not swearing. If you don’t know what I mean, I’ll try to put it more simply. Are you fonder than I am? There.”

“Fonder of what?”

“Fonder of each other.”

“You mean is each of us fonder of the other than the other is of–of the each?”

“I mean nothing of the kind. Until you muddled it the thing was perfectly clear. Well, we two are two, are we not?”

“Of course I know that, but—-“

“Wait a minute. I intend that you shall understand me this time. Which of those two would you say was fonder of the other than the other was of the other, or would you say that each was as fond of the other as the other one was? Now you see it.”

“Almost. Say it again.”

“Would you say that in your opinion neither of us were fonder of the other than both were of each, or that one was fonder of the other than the other was of the first, and if so, which?”

“Now you’ve made it worse than ever. I don’t believe you know what you mean yourself. Do come to supper and talk sense.”

* * * * *

I smiled cynically as I sat down to supper. “This doesn’t surprise me in the least,” I remarked. “I never yet knew a woman who could argue, or even understand the first step in an argument, and I don’t suppose I ever shall.”

“Well,” said Eliza, “you can’t argue until you know what you are talking about, and I don’t know what you’re talking about, and you don’t seem to know yourself, or, if you do, you’re too muddled to tell anybody. If you want to argue, argue about one pound fifteen and two. It’s Griffiths, and been sent in three times already.”

“Don’t shirk it, Eliza. Don’t try to get away from it. I asked you which of us you thought was the fonder of the other, and you couldn’t understand it.”

“Why, of course, I understand that. Why didn’t you say so before?”

“As far as I remember, those were my precise words.”

“But they weren’t! What you said was, ‘If neither of us was fonder of both than each is of either, which of the two would it be?’ or something of the kind.”

“Now, how could I talk such absolute nonsense?”

“Ah!” she said; “when men lose their temper they never know what they’re saying!”

I had a very good answer to that, but just at the moment the girl brought in the last post. There was a letter from Eliza’s mother. There was also an enclosure in postal orders quite beyond anything I had expected, and she expressed a hope that they might enable us “to defray some of the expenses incidental to the season.” As far as my own personal feeling is concerned, I should have returned them at once. In some ways I daresay that I am a proud man. I have been told so. But the poor old lady takes such pleasure in giving, and she has so little other enjoyment, that I should have been reluctant to check her. In fact, taking the money as evidence of her affection, I was pleased. So was Eliza.

“Pay Griffiths’s twopenny-halfpenny account to-morrow,” I said, “and tell him that he has lost our patronage for ever.”

* * * * *

We did not recur to the original question. Personally, I should say that in the case of two people it might very well happen that, though at one time the affection of one for the other might be greater than the affection which the other had for the one which I originally mentioned at the same time, yet at some other time the affection which the other one had for the other might be just as much greater than the affection which the first one had for the second, as the difference was in the first instance between the two. At least, that is the general drift of what I mean. Eliza would never see it, of course.