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The Vagabond



There was no wind, but it was cool and near sunset. He stood, in that bored, absent-minded way which for him meant intense concentration, looking over the Yard. He twirled his umbrella slowly and let the feeling of the familiar sun-speckled paths, trees, angles, and shapes sink through him. He felt that summer, with its horde of lady students and professors in linen suits and laughter and heat, had not quite left, and he was disappointed. Perhaps he had returned too soon.

Unbuttoning his ulster--Burberry's, London--he observed through half-closed eyes a jaunty step approaching. Subconsciously he knew to whom such a step must belong, and he was not interested; he had seen hundreds, all horribly the same. But the maker of this had a smiling face, which might be zealous as well as innocent, and he walked tall and straight, as though aware of obstacles.

He tapped the end of his umbrella upon the concrete and asked "What are you seeking, my friend?"

"Oh, pardon, I didn't see you in the shadows, I have a map, but I am altogether confused and I can't find Memorial Hall."

"That hall, eh?"

"You looking for it, too? We ought to find it together. You seem as lost as I am!"

He lifted the tip of the umbrella form the sidewalk, mumbled a word and fell in with the other's rapid stride.

"Is it going to rain?"

"I am prepared for the unexpected," he said.

"It may rain, so I carry protection. It may, freeze, so I wear protection."

"That's very funny.You must come from Boston, because you're so queer. Where do you live, anyway?"

"This summer I spent in the Common on a variety of benches. Not long ago I had four walls and a bed and some books, but I was finally driven out along with the rest."

"The rest?"

"My fellow students. Some of them lived in towers like mine. They have spread out all over, like files, buzzing here, crawling there. None of them know what they want, and are all afraid. Tell me, you are a newcomer here: do you fear anything?"

"Why, no . . I'm a little nervous, of course. This is like another world for me. I have come with little--an open mind, curiosity, hopes."

"You will learn those are useful. But it surprises me that you have no fear. It is fundamental to living. You see, we scholars cannot exist wholly in the past any more. They have forbidden it. We must be alert to what is changing around us, even though we cannot understand. They have warned us that the world has come to a sharp turn, and they say even students must be ready for the careening. It's a hard blow, because we have spent so many delightful years in our towers. It's somewhat of a joke that we, of all people, must think about security. We really are afraid. We tell each other over our sherry and vegetable soup that courage at such a time is blindness and fear is awareness."

"You make shivers run in me. I have seen my Dad scared and my Mom uneasy at the bridge table, but I thought when I got here and passed beneath a gate like that"--he flung a hand at the portal they had just left behind--"I would find peace and confidence. But I see that I too will have to become afraid."

He raised the umbrella and pointed at a building opposite them. "Ahead of you, my friend, lies Memorial Hall. There your fear should begin. It is big and ugly and lonely." He dropped the umbrella so that the point scratched the sidewalk.

"Before you go," said the other, "who are you? Not a Freshman, certainly!"

"Together we are all freshmen. Every man and woman in Cambridge, because all are innocent. Separately, I am Mister Vagabond. You may have the pleasure of my company again in the next four years. A fearful good evening to you." He started back, rebuttoning his coat. He stopped and turned. "I hope it doesn't rain," he said, and for an instant some ray of light escaped the darkness of the Yard and trapped a smile on his face.

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