The Student Vagabond
Fog billowed in from the sea. It blurred the outlines of the ancient town and muffiled the hammers in the shipyard where hundreds of workmen tortured English oak into ships and more ships for King William, scotching the Sun King, so they thought, with every hammer-blow.
One of the workmen was a Russian called Peter with a temper like gunpowder, who did five men's work in a day and drank at night with the capacity of a suction pump. Was there a great spar to be lifted or an anchor to be moved into place? Call Peter. Get the Russian to do it. And Peter would rush up like a regiment of Cossacks and fall to as though his life were at stake. Except sometimes, when he appeared to be sketching in a notebook. Then he would be deaf as a stone, and dynamite couldn't move him. The English workmen were afraid of him and kept their distance. "The devil's in that Peter," they would say. "Don't go near him." And on he would scribble, hunched like a great bear on a pile of pig iron.
A few months had taught him much. Soon he would doff the disguise and go back to Russia. Possible candidates for whippings and roastings drifted through his mind. As for his people, he would change their mode of dress, force them to shave their beards, compel them to smoke. A navy second to none and Russia modernized. . . . All in good time.
Such his thoughts as he labored in the shipyard. And the old sea town and the English workmen were none the wiser.
The Vagabond will rise with the milkman this morning to reach the New Lecture Hall by 9.07 and hear Professor Merriman on Peter the Great.