Charles Milford and his close friend Johnny Hill, who receives a monthly allowance of $100 from his father, leave their Midwestern hometown because they believe the United States has nothing to offer them, even though they have never visited New York or any other American metropolitan area. One autumn, they buy two large black hats and decide to go to Paris and live there permanently. Reading George Moore’s Confessions of a Young Man (1888) has inspired Charles to start writing about his adventures with Johnny. Johnny supports Charles, types his manuscripts, and calls him the most perceptive and delicate author since Henry James. The two friends love Montparnasse, peer into the windows of art galleries, avoid the Louvre and the museum at the Luxembourg Garden as merely attractions for tourists, and instead frequent various cafés, where fellow drinkers label them “the two boys.” Fanny Lee, an American woman now too shapeless to be an entertainer any longer, follows them from bar to bar, has nine or ten drinks an evening on them, and occasions their snickering criticism as they lie in their bed later.
One night at an English-style bar, the two eavesdrop on others and snicker so loudly at what they overhear that Stan Mason, up from Nice and drinking heavily, calls them two little goats. They bow so seriously in response that he is mollified, buys them drinks, and discusses architecture rather learnedly, until Charles suggests that his comments are really not very important. That night, the boys sit on the edge of their bed, talk about Mason, and for half the night snicker some more.
At a bar in November, the pair are listening to a jazz pianist from the United States when rich Milton Simpson and his wife enter. He has come to Paris to start life over again by writing, painting, and composing piano pieces simultaneously. He happens to brush past Charles, who without sufficient provocation pushes him away. They squabble until the pianist lays hold of Charles and drags him away. When the sensitive fellow begins to tremble and cry, Johnny leads him outside....
(The entire section is 854 words.)