138: A Hidden Story in the Numbers

One day, as Mr. Shobbinton was looking over Edmund’s lessons, he suddenly set the paper aside and looked Edmund square in the eye.

“Well?” he asked. “Is this your best?”

Edmund was caught flat-footed. Mr. Shobbinton was looking at his work; wasn’t it obvious? Edmund gave a small cough and shifted in his seat.

“I had great hopes for you, Young Master,” Mr. Shobbinton sighed, and shook his head. “I suppose it is my fault, placing such great expectations on one so young.” He looked around the room, a sneer playing about under his nose. “It’s this building. Generations of Mouldes doing everything the same…it breeds complacency…”

“What did I do wrong?” Edmund asked.

“Wrong?” Mr. Shobbinton sighed. “Nothing. Everything is adding up perfectly.”

“I don’t understand,” Edmund shook his head.

“You’d better, and quickly,” Mr. Shobbinton snorted. “Function and Form are not as linked as most people believe, Master Edmund,” Mr. Shobbinton gave a faint smile as he pulled a sheaf of papers from his briefcase. “If you simply learn the Form, you don’t automatically understand the Function. Making numbers dance is one skill, but interpreting these movements… that is another altogether.”

With that, he tossed the papers back onto the table and left the study. Edmund looked at his work, completely nonplussed. Interpret numbers? He was used to the idea of interpreting poetry, but numbers? Numbers were completely different than words, weren’t they?

Edmund glanced back through all the pages of numbers he had been working on for the past week. What was there to interpret? Of course the numbers must represent something, but what? The answer came ashamedly easy. Money, of course, he was supposed to be learning finance, but what else?

Sometimes numbers were added, other times subtracted. That must be getting and spending money, Edmund reasoned. But sometimes a certain amount of money was added in one place only for the exact amount to be subtracted again later, or small amounts multiplied several times across the page. Why would anyone want to move their money around like this?

Mr. Shobbinton was disappointed…because the numbers added up?

As Edmund flipped through page after page, he suddenly realized he wasn’t looking at different pages of different numbers, but several pages of the same numbers. This wasn’t just money, this was a story.

Eagerly, Edmund started over, tracking each number and tracing its life through the pages. Bit by bit he began to piece together a framework–a narrative that made the numbers rise and fall with purpose, rather than chaotic whim.

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