John Taplow, who is about sixteen years old and in the lower fifth form of an English public school, appears at the flat of Andrew Crocker-Harris for an end-of-term tutorial in the hope of being advanced to the upper fifth. Seeing a box of chocolates, he helps himself to two pieces, eats one, and then, either out of conscience or fear of being caught, replaces the other.
Shortly thereafter, Frank Hunter arrives, and in the course of the conversation between the two it becomes clear that Crocker-Harris is retiring because of ill health. Known for his strict discipline, students dub him the “Crock” and “Himmler of the lower fifth.” Hunter, on the other hand, enjoys easy rapport with students, as can be seen in Taplow’s readiness to share confidences with him. While they wait for the “Crock” to appear, Hunter instructs Taplow in a proper golf swing. Taplow admits that, although like most students he had his share of fun at Crocker-Harris’s expense, he does have sympathy for him.
Taplow is in the midst of mimicking the classics master when Millie Crocker-Harris enters and overhears the mimicry. She dispatches Taplow on an errand to the druggist for Crocker-Harris’s heart medicine so that she can be alone with Hunter, with whom she is having an affair.
Crocker-Harris appears, only to find that Taplow is not there. When Taplow returns, Millie leaves to prepare dinner, and Hunter leaves pupil and master to their work on a translation of Aeschylus’s Agamemnon (458 b.c.e.). As with the earlier incident with the chocolates, Taplow’s schoolboyish nervousness emerges in the form of a thoughtless comment about the master’s inability to pass his love for the Greek play on to the boys. Frightened by his own audacity, Taplow attempts to make amends by encouraging Crocker-Harris to talk about the rhymed translation he made of the play at the age of eighteen. Then, overcome by emotion for the first time in years, Crocker-Harris cuts short the session and abruptly dismisses...
(The entire section is 841 words.)