He thought about the Last Judgement. He did not believe that something like this could ever happen. The accused can set up a defence, some questions might be quite embarrassing to God. Insects, filth, pain. Everything is so imperfect. Even space and time are so slappily created. He thought that if he had to come before tribunal, he would raise some issues.
Some decades pass, and Gauss as a geometer stays for the night in an unknown old provincial castle in Northern Germany. The following morning he has to meet the owner, in order to ask his permission for cutting down some trees on the estate which obstruct the work of land-surveying.
He felt relieved as he found a lattice gate which opened to the garden.
The garden was created with amazing care: palm trees, orchids, orange trees, bizarre-shaped cactuses and all kinds of plants, such as Gauss has not even seen on pictures. Gravel creaked under his shoes, a lian swept the cap off his head. Some sweetish smell was spreading, flawed fruits were laying on the earth. The vegetation became denser and the road narrower, he had to duck his head as he walked along. What a waste! He could only hope he would at least not meet unknown insects. He creeped through between two palm trunks, but his overcoat got caught and he almost stumbled against a thorn-bush. And then he found himself on a meadow. The count, still negligee, with tousled hair and barefoot, was sitting there in an armchair and having a tea.
Appealing, said Gauss.
It was much more beautiful before, said the count. Nowadays the garden staff is expensive and the French soldiers quartered here also destroyed a lot. He only recently came back. He was in Switzerland as an emigrant, but now the circumstances have changed temporarily. Sir geometer does not want to sit down?
Gauss looked around. There was only one chair, and the count was sitting on it. Not necessarily, he said vaguely.
Well, said the count. Then they can start to negotiate.
It’s mere formailty, said Gauss said. In order to have a free look at the measure point of Scharnhorst, he should cut down three trees in the countly forest and pull down a shed which apparently has been empty for years.
Scharnhorst? There is no person who can see that far!
Oh yes there is, said Gauss, as far as light beams are used. He developed a tool which is able to send flashing signals to an unimaginable distance. By this for the first time the connection between the Earth and the Moon became possible.
The Earth and the Moon, echoed the count.
Gaus nodded smiling. He exactly knew what was now happening inside the skull of the old blockhead.
As far as the trees and the shed are concerned, said the count, they were estimated wrongly. The shed is indispensable. The trees are valuable.
Gauss sighed. He would have liked to sit down. How many of these conversations he had to conduct already! Of course, he said wearily, but let us not go too far. He knows well what is worth those few trees and the hut. In these times the state should not be burdened excessively.
Patriotism, said the count. Interesting. Especially if he is called upon by someone who recently was a French official
Gauss stared at him.
The count sipped into his tea and asked him not to misunderstand him. He does not blame anyone. Times were difficult and everyone behaved as opportunities allowed.
Napoleon, said Gauss, refrained from the bombardment of Göttingen because of him!
The count nodded. He did not appear surprised. Not everyone was so lucky to enjoy the respect of the Corsican.
And almost none had such merits, said Gauss.
The count looked contemplatively into his cup. In any case, sir geometer is not as inexperienced with regard to business as he pretends to be.
Gauss asked how he should understand this.
Sir geometer will presumably pay him with the means of payment accepted in the whole country, won’t he?
Of course, said Gauss.
Then, however, the question arises whether the state reimburses sir geometer for his expenses in gold. For if it is indeed so, then he can realize a pretty exchange profit. One does not have to be a mathematician to notice it.
Gauss turned red.
At least not the so-called prince of mathematicians, said the count, who would certainly not fail to notice it.
Gauss folded his hands behind his back and gazed at the orchids grown on the palm trunks. There is nothing illegal in it, he said.
No doubt, the count said. He is certain that sir geometer looked after it. By the way, he admires very much the work of geometers. It is a strange job to wander back and forth with instruments.
Only if it is practiced in Germany. Whoever does the same in the Cordilleras, is celebrated as a discoverer.
The count shook his head. It must be difficult even so, especially if one has family at home. Sir geometer has a family, doesn’he? Is his wife a brave woman?
Gauss did not answer. The sun appeared too bright to him, the plants annoyed him. He asked whether they could speak about the purchase of the trees. He has to go, his time is limitd.
It cannot be that limited, said the count. If one is the author of the Disquisitiones Arithmeticae, then, in effect, he should not hurry any more.
Gauss looked with shock at the count.
Just do not be so modest, said the count. In all his life he did not read read anything more remarkable than the chapter on the division of the circle. He found some ideas which were illuminative even to him.
Really, really, said the count, he was speaking seriously.
It is surprising, said Gauss, to meet someone here who is interested in such things.
He should rather say knonwledge, the count said. His interest is rather limited. But he always considered it important to enlarge his knowledge even beyond the limits of his interest. And if they are already here: he heard that sir geometer wanted to tell him something.
An old history. Grievances. Annoyances. And moreover a complaint as well.
Gauss rubbed his forehead. It began to be warm. He had no idea what this man was speaking about.
Gauss looked at him without understanding.
If not, then not, said the count. As for the trees, he gives them free of charge.
And the shed?
But why, asked Gauss, and he got scared of himself. What a silly mistake!
Should always everything be justified? Out of love towards the state, as it can be expected of a citizen of it. Out of appreciation towards sir geometer.
Gaus thanked by bowing. Now he has to leave, his good-for-nothing son is waiting for him, he has to cover the whole distance to Kalbsloh.
The count returned the greeting with a quivering gesture of his narrow hand.