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During my first week at Oxford I decided not to go out for any sports in the fall, or Michaclmas, term. My college offered Rugby, soccer, field hockey and something referred to as "the boats." I had never done any of these. They were all outdoor sports, and outdoors was where it was raining. For a fee I could also have joined a team of chaps who trotted informally through the dripping countryside in mild competition with a group from another college. Or I could have subscribed to a beagling club and worn a green coat, stout laced boots and a hemispheric little green velvet cap and legged it over the fields behind the dogs in search of hares and perhaps gotten a furry paw glued to a wooden shield as a trophy to hang in my room. The rain discouraged me, however. I got soggy enough walking to lectures. The fall term seemed a good time to lie up in front of a fire and get a good start on my reading.
I did this. I read heavily, but after three weeks I noticed a nervousness coming over me. And after the fourth week I knew what it was. I had been getting up every half hour to look out of the window. Now, there was nothing to look at out of my window but the college coal pile and beyond it a 15-foot wall topped with broken glass to keep students from climbing in after midnight. I was looking for a girl. I had got used to having dates at home but, after a day or two of scrutiny, I could tell that I was not likely to see one poised like a mountain goat on top of the coal.
I had won a Rhodes scholarship because I was the only man at the state examination who had worn a stiff collar—an Arrow, I believe. I did not wear it to Oxford. Instead I bought shirts with what we used to call bootlegger (tab) collars, a tweed jacket and gray flannel "bags." Not knowing that Americans move differently from the English—looser, somehow—and that you can identify one as far as you can see him, I believed my attire made me indistinguishable from an Old Etonian, and I had peeped at the English girls in the lecture halls, thinking that I had at least an even start with the Englishmen. I was appalled at what I saw.
There are four women's colleges at Oxford. Most of their undergraduates were going to be schoolmistresses and looked it. They wore rugged tweeds full of sticks of heather and twigs of gorse that stank in the wet weather, and they had big, frightening muscles in their legs from bike riding. A beautiful American girl would, I thought, be glad to make the acquaintance of a compatriot because of her loneliness.
I spotted an American girl in one of my lectures and she was beautiful. By asking around among other Americans I learned her name, which I have forgotten, and her address. I called. A maid let me in and went to fetch her. When she came in I said, "I wonder if you would care to drink some sherry with me this afternoon and bring a friend." I didn't want her friend, but the university had ruled that young women could visit young men's rooms only in pairs.
"I don't think so," she said coldly.
She walked out.