The Vagabond

The Vag fumbled with his black tie. This was always the hardest part of it--this and getting used to the bite of the collar button as it dug into his throat. But he didn't really mind too much. The thing had to be done, and it was only once in three years. He looked over the letter lying on his desk. "Dear Vag: Will you give the Associates and Tutors and pleasure of your company at the head table at the October House Dinner.... We usually wear dinner coats, but that is by no means essential if it is in any way inconvenient...."

The Vag might very well have found it inconvenient if the guest of honor hadn't been some one very special. He was Harvard's most famous professor, subject of anecdotes the world over, brilliant, witty, learned and slightly left of center. His students awesomely spoke of him as the Great Red Pepper.

It was possible that the Vag might meet him. Oh, sure, the undergraduates would undoubtedly be introduced to the great man. And this was about the last time that he would ever get a chance to see the Red Pepper at such close range. For news had been trickling out of Washington that the Red Pepper was slated for appointment to a very important nine man sociological commission Even the orthodox trade association to which he nominally belonged was overwhelmingly in favor of his promotion.

Vag found himself searching along the head table for his seat. Ab, At Last. At his right sat a Philosophy professor. Vag had taken Phil. A way back in his sophomore year. Now he didn't even remember what epistemology was. What was that course about? Oh, yes, Descartes. "I think, therefore I am!" That had been very simple. Spinoza... Spinoza... complete blank. Hume: If one billiard ball strikes another at a velocity of...Oh, well, who was on his left?... Directly opposite sat the House Master. God! This was the center of the table and sitting on the Master's right, close enough for Vag to kick in the shins was the Great Red Pepper himself.

The Vag sat down expectantly. Three barren years of concentration in Government were finally to be enriched by communion with the all highest. The Phil man on his right was saying something.... Well, there would be plenty of time for the Red Pepper when they reached the main course.


Turning back, Vag found all attention centered on a match cover which the Master was holding out. Yes, yes, murmured the Red Pepper with a reminiscent gleam in his eye. He had been there, too. Vag strained his neck a little toward the matches. With a little more effort he might have caught a glimpse but he couldn't stretch his neck all over the table. He would soon be looking like a giraffe.

The Red Pepper was saying something about being "an employer too." Well, this was interesting. It gave Vag an opening because he wondered.... The waitress was wanting to know if he was through with the lamb. Desert already! And the Red Pepper had switched the, subject. Suddenly, halfway through his ice cream, Vag realized what was happening. He was being taken right out of the play like a Harvard end! Decoyed to the right, cross-blocked when he turned back toward the left, mousetrapped by the Master, he was missing the ball carried consistently and the game was nearly over. These union gals had their eye on the clock and the ice cream was going fast. Vag knew he had to smash up this interference and smash it fast. Suddenly he lashed out: "What do you think, Professor..." But Vag's question was smothered in the scraping of chairs. The head table had risen.