The Professor left off polishing his spectacles to consider. "My dears," he said after a minute, "the day is the same length as anything that is the same length as it." And he resumed his never-ending task of polishing.
The children returned, slowly and thoughtfully, to report his answer. "Isn't he wise?"
Sylvie asked in an awestruck whisper. "If I was as wise as that, I should have a head-ache all day long. I know I should!"
"You appear to be talking to somebody--that isn't here," the Professor said, turning round to the children. "Who is it?"
Bruno looked puzzled. "I never talks to nobody when he isn't here!" he replied. "It isn't good manners. Oo should always wait till he comes, before oo talks to him!"
The Professor looked anxiously in my direction, and seemed to look through and through me without seeing me. "Then who are you talking to?" he said. "There isn't anybody here, you know, except the Other Professor and he isn't here!" he added wildly, turning round and round like a teetotum. "Children! Help to look for him! Quick! He's got lost again!"
The children were on their feet in a moment.
"Where shall we look?" said Sylvie.
"Anywhere!" shouted the excited Professor. "Only be quick about it!" And he began trotting round and round the room, lifting up the chairs, and shaking them.
Bruno took a very small book out of the bookcase, opened it, and shook it in imitation of the Professor. "He isn't here," he said.
"He ca'n't be there, Bruno!" Sylvie said indignantly.
"Course he ca'n't!" said Bruno. "I should have shooked him out, if he'd been in there!"
"Has he ever been lost before?" Sylvie enquired, turning up a corner of the hearth-rug, and peeping under it.
"Once before," said the Professor: "he once lost himself in a wood--"
"And couldn't he find his-self again?" said Bruno. "Why didn't he shout? He'd be sure to hear his-self, 'cause he couldn't be far off, oo know."
"Lets try shouting," said the Professor.
"What shall we shout?" said Sylvie.
"On second thoughts, don't shout," the Professor replied. "The Vice-Warden might hear you. He's getting awfully strict!"
This reminded the poor children of all the troubles, about which they had come to their old friend. Bruno sat down on the floor and began crying. "He is so cruel!" he sobbed. "And he lets Uggug take away all my toys! And such horrid meals!"
"What did you have for dinner to-day?" said the Professor.
"A little piece of a dead crow," was Bruno's mournful reply.
"He means rook-pie," Sylvie explained.
"It were a dead crow," Bruno persisted. "And there were a apple-pudding --and Uggug ate it all--and I got nuffin but a crust! And I asked for a orange--and--didn't get it!" And the poor little fellow buried his face in Sylvie's lap, who kept gently stroking his hair,as she went on. "It's all true, Professor dear! They do treat my darling Bruno very badly! And they're not kind to me either," she added in a lower tone, as if that were a thing of much less importance.
The Professor got out a large red silk handkerchief, and wiped his eyes. "I wish I could help you, dear children!" he said. "But what can I do?"
"We know the way to Fairyland--where Father's gone--quite well," said Sylvie: "if only the Gardener would let us out."
"Won't he open the door for you?" said the Professor.
"Not for us," said Sylvie: "but I'm sure he would for you. Do come and ask him, Professor dear!"
"I'll come this minute!" said the Professor.
Bruno sat up and dried his eyes. "Isn't he kind, Mister Sir?"
"He is indeed," said I. But the Professor took no notice of my remark. He had put on a beautiful cap with a long tassel, and was selecting one of the Other Professor's walking-sticks, from a stand in the corner of the room. "A thick stick in one's hand makes people respectful," he was saying to himself. "Come along, dear children!" And we all went out into the garden together.
"I shall address him, first of all," the Professor explained as we went along, "with a few playful remarks on the weather.