The Vagabond


In the land of Neverpresent there lived a goodly people, with herds of cattle, flocks of sheep and goats, and sties full of fat swine. Their streets were all paved with cobblestones, and each house had a white gate and was placed at least three feet from the next house. The soil rewarded the farmers' toil with rich crops; smoke poured from the chimneys of the factories all day and sometimes far into the night; stores, hospitals, and the rocket trucks ran with a maximum of efficient quiet.

Now one day in this land a certain one named Eng persuaded the people, who were the rulers, to let him and his nearest neighbors use privately a wheeled rocket. This was not a new, but a controversial idea, for in the past the people had agreed to mold their minds in a form that should exclude all conflict. So in a scythed field that stretched to the horizon the people gathered, and a few explained to the young what controversy meant, and soon all debated and disagreed, until the sun set blushing at their words.

But Eng rose and gave a long speech, wherein be waved his arms and cried and boasted, so that the people, fearing, granted him a rocket car. Smiling, Eng invited the neighbors living one mile about him to sign the paper which said they could drive the car. They did, and there was much laughter and teasing, and many took turns driving.

Days were forgotten. Then someone struck a stray cow and broke the rocket. Eng assembled his neighbors, and each contributed to the price for repair. Another one stole part of the car for himself and did not tell Eng. Finding it gone, Eng became angry and beat his head. He began to punish those who misused the car by using it more himself. Then he used it when he was not punishing. People wondered, but said nothing, for Eng could do no wrong. But soon Eng had the rocket most of the time, and he frowned when any neighbor asked for it.

Days were remembered. His neighbors grumbld and came together secretly. They forwarded their grievance to the people. Some defended Eng, because he was strong; others went to him, because they admired his ways. Tension followed, and dissension. Then trouble, and open warfare that became more and more vicious and consumed houses and beasts and people. Eng prospered and at last established himself as the people. Thus was the wheeled rocket neglected in this epoch, and it rotted beneath the burning sun and the rain.