The Vagabond

HIGH MIDNIGHT

That night there is snow, and its soft silent falling does much to cool his feverish vacation marathon. He finds that the mad dashings, the enforced gaieties which have so far characterized his holiday activities have now a thin crust of ice tinging their edges. In a so-white, so-virginal, so-hushed world, it becomes unseemly to talk loudly and vacuously with hometown people, to rush hastily from place to place, and to find final lodgement at the noisiest, the most crowded, most frenzied party-dance. But that is what everyone he knows insists on doing. And likewise he must do.

With such pensive musing, the Vagabond climbs into a shower, then into his tails, then into the family sedan. He drives carefully to Her house, and then after an interval of cheery chitchat with Her family, they drive to the party-dance. She is wearing the gown he likes, and She shows deference to his solemn mood by sitting close and quietly linking Her arm in his.

At the dance there are countless good friends, friends, and just acquaintances, all of whom bid VA and girl more or less raucous welcome. They join other couples at a large table where there is too great a variety of liquors, too many cigarettes smouldering in ashtrays, and too much gaiety. It is a desperate gaiety; this party has to be better, livelier, than last night's because this is a bigger night; and last night's had to surpass the one before, and so on. Somehow, everything is wrong. Somehow, the excellent orchestra is too loud, too fast. Somehow, the floor is too crowded, the decorations too garishly bizarre.

In philosophic detachment, Vag stumbles on the reason why. This is enforced, simulated gaiety. It is not the youthful exuberance which rightfully follows a Yale game. It is not the gay abandon of a May evening's hilarity in the Yard or Square. That exuberance and abandon are always present in the blood. But this gaiety is one scientifically, commercially, injected into the veins with a syringe. There is no trace of the real Christmas at this party. Vag and girl leave abruptly.

Outside it is much better. The sedan charts its own course to quieter sectors. Soon it leaves behind the slush of city streets and climbs through untrammeled snow, higher and higher, then circles back and stops, looking down on the city which twinkles in the distance. The heater buzzes efficiently. The radio along breaks the silence with soft chords.

Vag's arm steals around Her shoulder, and Her head comes to rest easily in the crook of his elbow. Mutual contentment. The mad, festive roar of those thousands at dances is now a thing apart; far below the city appears calmly dignified. From the west a tiny train slithers into the station behind its headlight, and the green eye of a signal turns to red. Then, carrying over the show-silence, comes the faint but insistent tinkle of a church bell which tolls and tolls. The Eve has become the Day.

And there on the heights, Vag and She see the real Christmas.