Newsgroups: talk.bizarre
Subject: How the Fish-Boy Became a Scientist.
Date: Tue, 01 Dec 1998 23:13:38 GMT
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        Chapter the First.
        In Which I Meet the Colonel Tambourine,
        and He Laughs at Me.

In the days of my youth, tired, hungry men strode through the gates
of my home town of St. Margaret.  Among them stood the bravest and
greatest of men, Colonel Tambourine and his team of Grand Geometers.

Much of our country at that time lay unmapped, uncharted, as black in
our minds as coal to the eye, and as wild in our imaginations as the
strangest menagerie.  And as luck would have it, the Grandly Geometric
Colonel Tambourine took the Right of Quarters within my father's
domicile.  The Right of Quarters, should we forget our history, is the
right of a Grand Geometer to lodging with anyone who should have space
before his hearth.  This was pursuant to the condition, of course,
that said Grand Geometer deliver a tale and keep his hands from the
daughters of the house.

Needless to say, a given Grand Geometer was a taleteller par
excellance, an unmatched yarnspinner, with a vocabulary of experience
to pale the most salted of sailor.  And Colonel Tambourine, even in
his younger days, was quite the storyteller.

Having departed the canaled, gondola-infested city of Chicago, charged
by the Parliament, Colonel Ajax Tambourine of the Corps of Grand
Geometry set forth.  His assignment, "The Measurement of the Domains
of Upper Hinlandia, and the Territories Adjacent," was his latest, and
he recounted a tale that struck awe into our hearts.  I discerned in
my father's eye a worry, for I had asked Colonel Tambourine if I, one
day, could join his corps of Grand Geometry.  He laughed loudly, took
a swig of our bottle and said,

"You?  My dear Roberto!  You're but a simple fish-boy!"

        Chapter the Second.
        In Which I Decide to Go to Chicago,
        and It Causes a Boil on My Father's Head.

Colonel Tambourine had a point.  I was a fish-boy but I was not simple.
I served as my father's fish-boy since I was young.  For those of you
who never toiled on the land, let me tell you that a fish-boy brought
fish, salt and wine to the fencebuilders.  My father was a
fencebuilder, the strongest and smartest in all of St. Margaret.  He
built the fence around the Mendelsohn Vinyard, which brings fame to
St. Margaret for its light lavender wine.

After Colonel Tambourine and his men departed our city, life resumed
its usual course, but through the years I grew and secretly sought out
books on the Geometry of the Earth.  Through my studies by candlelight
in my room, I became proficient in the sciences of Arithmetic.  I
learned to add, subtract and multiply.  Quietly I honed these talents,
until the day came when I addressed my father thus.

"Father, the time has come for me to strike out on my own.  Here I lay
down the wine bottle and fish-basket, the accoutrements of the
fish-boy.  I will not follow in your footsteps to take your place as
Fencebuilder in the Guild.  I have chosen to become a scientist,
father, so that I might become a Grand Geometer."

To this my father said nothing.  He merely continued planing his
boards, and then he sanded them.  I could tell he was carefully
planning his response.  When he finally looked up, a boil had appeared
on his forehead.  "My son, as I love you I cannot protest your choice
and force you to stay on.  But know that this boil, this carbunculous
pustule formed upon my forehead just so.  This is the anger I keep
from you, my son.  In the form of a boil on my skin."

I returned to the house quickly, and placed my clothes into a satchel.
I took with me one book, "On the Arithmetic" by Dr. Agamemnon
Lederhaus.  I planned quickly, took some dried fish and fruit from the
cellar, and set out on foot for the gates of the city.  There, I
climbed onto a horsedrawn cart headed for Chicago, the Fair City, where
I would find Dr. Lederhaus.  Before opening the book to read again on
the way, I wondered when the boil on my father's head would heal.

        Chapter the Third.
        In Which I Meet Dr. Agamemnon Lederhaus,
        and How He Takes Me In.

One week later, having crossed the bay on ferry, we sailed up the
canals of Chicago, to the marketplace.  From there, I walked to the
University.  At the gates of the University, I showed them my copy of
Dr. Lederhaus' book.  The Keeper smiled heartily, but let me pass
anyway.  I found the department of Arithmetic, and walked in.

The department of Arithmetic was housed in a building made entirely of
square bricks.  Squares, perfect shapes, perfect geometry.  Every
corner 90 degrees.  I thought of the simple geometry of my father's
fencebuilding, how elegant and simple rules guided him to build a
fence the way he did.  But that was fencebuilding geometry, not Grand

I walked the long halls of the department, looking at the portraits of
the Arithmeticians who had gone before me.  Some had become Grand
Geometers, as I hoped to.  There was even Colonel Tambourine, his
curly mustache waxed, his smile brazen and eyes fiery.  I was so
engrossed in the names and faces of these men and women that I did not
hear the footsteps approaching.  I was pitched forward and against the
wall as my book fell closed to the marble floor.  I heard papers spill
this way and that and when I looked, a feeble, short man with bright
red hair lay sprawled on the ground.

"Dah!  Now I will never find it!" he grumbled.  I helped him lift the
papers up, but he stopped me.  "No, no no!  I have a special filing
system!"  After he had collected them, and I had apologized profusely,
he spotted the book in my hand.

"Lederhaus, eh?  You a student of his?"

"No, but I hope to be,"  I responded.  This must be one of his
colleagues.  Was it McBrazel?  Or perhaps the Professor Harris?

"I am Lederhaus, the man himself!"  He said, extending his hand for a

"Then why did you ask me -"

"- No time for formalities!  Come with me."

The man actually took me in, right on the spot.  I supposed it wasn't
every day that someone walks in off the boat and asks to work with
you.  But he was excited, and no sooner were we in his office when he
began to fill my arms with papers and journals.  Arithmetica Acta,
Multiplication, Tabulation.

        Chapter the Fourth
        My Work on Long Division Begins with
        Dr. Lederhaus.

Dr. Lederhaus took me to his home, and let me live in a cell in his
basement.  At night, he would lock me in the cell and I would read by
candle all night long.  I would work on problems he gave me.  It
seemed that the main problem Dr. Lederhaus was working on was that of
Long Division.  Dividing small numbers was no problem, but science had
been confounded for many years, completing the Table of Operations.

The Table of Operations consisted of three operations.  These were
addition and subtraction, the simple operations.  The third operation
was multiplication; repeated addition.  Many could divide small
numbers, but dividing huge numbers proved troublesome except in
certain cases.  Dr. Lederhaus was determined to produce an algorithm
that would divide any huge number by another.  He and his colleagues
were called the Long Divisionists.

Dr. Lederhaus would take me, as his apprentice, by a leash to his
office every day.  There I would take notes for him while he was at
the chalkboard.  Dr. Lederhaus might sometimes swallow the chalk by
accident, and I would have to remove it from his throat.  At the end
of the day, we would eat cheese sandwiches and Dr. Lederhaus would
rewrite my notes into his notebook.

The notebook is the life of the scientist.  Every scientist names his
notebook, and takes copious notes in it.  A scientist is defined by
his notebook.  And this is the way it should be.

Through all the reading I came to know the names of the scientists
across the world who labored at the cause of long division.  Morgan,
Charlestein, Gilbertoson, Chewy and Maartens.  These were my night-
time companions for many years.

Through all this work, Dr. Lederhaus never once mocked my for my
fish-boy past.  He never made me feel as if I were a simpleton for
coming from people who worked with their hands.  And this was his
kindness to me.  That and allowing me to sell my hair for food.

        Chapter the Fifth.
        In Which Dr. Lederhaus and I Make the
        Great Discovery of Borrowing.

One night, I had fallen asleep while reading an article by
Gilbertoson in my cage.  I was roused by Dr. Lederhaus, screaming into
my ear, "We've done it!  We've done it!  We're going to St.
Petersburg!  Pack your bag, boy!"

During that day I had corrected what I thought was a mistake made by
Dr. Lederhaus.  He added in a place where I thought he should
subtract, and I thought this corrected it.  It did far better than
that, it solved the problem entirely, and what you call borrowing was
born.  A product of my own intuition and Dr. Lederhaus' genius.  My
heart swelled with pride.

We carefully went over the notes in the notebook all day, not even
bothering to go to Dr. Lederhaus' office.  Dr. Lederhaus drank much
wine, wine from the Mendelsohn vinyards, and it made me think of my
father, and the boil on his head.  I wondered if it had subsided by

A month later was the meeting in St. Petersburg.  The Fourth
Conference on Long Division.  We boarded a ship with a swarthy crew,
and rode along the coast to St. Petersburg.  We protected our
notebooks with utmost care.  These were our treasures, the most
important part of our existence.  These held our equations, our
instructions, our numbers, very important and interesting numbers.

At the port of St. Petersberg, we disembarked, and proceeded
immediately to the Gardens of the City, where the meeting would begin
that afternoon.

        Chapter the Sixth.
        In Which We Meet the Fabulous Scientists
        of Our Time.

At the Gardens, scientists like ourselves walked among the lavenderia
and olive trees.  They conversed and drank wine, laughing and smiling.
They pulled their apprentices around by their leashes, and the
apprentices struggled to keep track of the notebooks.  I was expecting
Dr. Lederhaus to leash me, but he did not.  "You are a scientist
today, Roberto.  Walk with dignity!  Carry your own notebook!"

And from the fold of his jacket, Dr. Lederhaus presented me with the
finest notebook I had ever seen or hoped to hold.  Its pages were
yellow and clean, the cover was brown, decorated brightly embossed
letters with my own name "Roberto."  I thanked Dr. Lederhaus, and a
tear came to my eye, but he handed me his handkerchief and I wiped it
away.  "None of that!" he said, "we have important results to present
today!  Allow me to introduce you to all those names from those papers
you read!"

And as we strode through the garden, in our tights and coats, Dr.
Lederhaus introduced me to Byrans, Gilbertoson, Bryce, Paperonius and
Chewy.  All refined, careful and generous men and women, with their
apprentices leashed.  The apprentices conversed among themselves,
comparing notebooks feverishly.  I was tempted to converse with them
myself, but I held back.  I was a scientist now.  I had my very own
notebook.  One to fill with equations.

"And this lovely scientist is Dr. Prestidigia Maartens."  I bowed low,
but she looked not at me.  Dr. Lederhaus and Dr. Maartens stared
intensely at each other for a long time.  She was older, but beautiful
nonetheless, wearing an empire dress, her hand gripped tightly around
the leash of her assistant, a waifish girl a few years younger than me.

"I will never forgive you, Agamemnon.  You embarrassed me, you made me
a fool in front of the entire Academy!  I chastise you, I rebuke you!"
and with that, Dr. Maartens slapped Dr. Lederhaus hard across the face
and hurried away.  Her apprentice looked back, only to be jerked hard
by the neck to follow.

"She never forgot that I proved her wrong...  that fifty divided by
ten was five and not four remainder one.  Some people remain bitter
their entire lives.  Some because of broken hearts, others... because
of arithmetic."

        Chapter the Seventh.
        In Which the Grand Geometers Arrive at the
        Conference of Long Division, and What Becomes
        of It.

Bugles sounded from the south end of the Garden, heralding the arrival
of important people.  Into our midst strode the weary, unclean and
unshaven men of Grand Geometry.  From their belts hung sextants and
compasses, spyglasses and protractors.  And their leader I recognized
as the same Ajax Tambourine, who had laughed at me so long ago.

"So this is the man to solve all our troubles," said Colonel
Tambourine to Dr. Lederhaus.  "Should your findings prove correct, we
will forever be in your debt!"  With that, Colonel Tambourine bowed
before Dr. Lederhaus.  The crowd around began to applaud.

"But Colonel Tambourine, my esteemed colleague, I am not the one you
should thank."  With this, Colonel Tambourine looked up and the
audience quelled its applause.  "My former assistent, Roberto, is the
one who solved the problem.  His bright young mind is a shining star,
an example to us all."

Colonel Tambourine looked at me, and he recognized my countenance at
once.  "Though transformed by age and experience, I recognize this one
as a fish-boy, the son of a fencebuilder in St. Margaret!  Am I to
believe that one who toiled upon the land could be so smart as to
solve the problem of Long Division?"  And he laughed heartily.
Following his lead, the other Grand Geometers began to laugh.

"Laugh if you must," I responded.  "But Colonel Tambourine, you cannot
argue with science.  Our findings justly deserve the recognition of
this gathering.  If you find it useful to your measurement of the
Domains of our country, so be it.  If not, then you may laugh again."

"By all means.  Let us see your findings."

With this, Dr. Lederhaus, in his somewhat elliptical yet simple
fashion, began to explain how we tried to carry, but eventually
realized that carrying was the problem and borrowing as in subtraction
was the solution.  This was the end of it.  The table of operations
was complete.  Symmetry was restored to Arithmetic.  And Dr. Lederhaus
had inklings that perhaps now the strange science of Algebra could be
fully understood.

Applause from all over the Gardens followed, lasting for a full hour.
At the end of it, Dr. Lederhaus, overcome by his happiness, collapsed,
clutching his heart.  Dr. Maartens approached with me, and as we
helped Dr. Lederhaus sit, he whispered to me,

"My son, you must carry on our work.  Confirm the Long Division, and
carry on with Algebra.  I must have swallowed too much of the
chalk.  Prestidigia...  Forgive me..."

With this, Dr. Lederhaus expired.  The Gardens were silent, and
something moved Dr. Maartens to speak.  "The Father of Long Division
is dead."

Workmen arrived with a shovel, and they buried him immediately there,
in the gardens.  We wept for a few moments, but I clutched the old
notebooks close to my chest and smiled.  I had an assignment, a charge
of my own...  To map out spaces of the mind yet uncharted.  This was
my charge, and I needed no adventure through the jungles to sustain

"We have need of an arithemtician among us, fish-boy," said Colonel

"Then ask around.  I'm sure someone here will go with you."

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