Harper's New Monthly Magazine,  10 (1885), 611–15.

An Old Arithmetician

Mary E Wilkins


Short Fiction


Mathematics, Amusement, Gender

    When the elderly Mrs Wilson Torry is given a mathematical 'problem' that has already perplexed both the local high-school teacher and the parish minister, she reflects that she 'can't remember the time when I wasn't crazy to cipher' and how even as a child would 'rather count than play' (611). She acknowledges that 'I don't know anything about the 'rithmetic books an' the rules they hev nowadays', but declares nevertheless 'I've got this faculty; I can cipher [...] it's a gift' (611–12). She becomes so engrossed in solving the problem, however, that she stops performing her domestic duties, and barely notices when her granddaughter Letty goes missing. Letty's continued absence, though, makes her realise that she has been 'a-lettin' my faculty for cipherin' get ahead of things that's higher an' sacreder' (614), and that 'There's other things besides doing arithmetic examples' (615). Only when Letty at last returns is her contrite grandmother able finally to complete the troublesome problem and exclaim joyfully 'I've got that sum [...] done' (615).

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