John Blaydon notices Victoria Blount at a lawn party at the home of a neighbor, Mrs. Bellingham. Victoria is thirteen years old; he is slightly younger. Victoria remarks that they are so much alike that John might have been her brother. John, hopelessly infatuated, suggests that they slip away from the others. They go out by the lake to “see the swans,” but Victoria insists that they go for a swim, even though they both have no bathing suits. When they plunge into the water naked, John realizes that he loves her, that “he would always love her; even when he was old enough to love people he would love her and go on loving her for ever .”
Suddenly, John hears her cry for help. He swims to where she was and desperately searches for her underwater; finally locating her white body, he pulls her to the shore, just as his sister Melanie and Tim, another guest, arrive on the scene, having come to look for him. John and Tim drag Victoria to higher ground, where John, sitting astride Victoria’s unconscious body, proceeds to administer artificial respiration. While he is reviving the unfortunate girl, Mrs. Bellingham appears and immediately assumes that the adolescents have been engaging in sex. Fearing a scandal, however, she wants to keep the matter quiet.
When John and his sister return home, Melanie tells her mother everything. Mrs. Blaydon is outraged and interrogates John. She becomes convinced that intercourse did not take place, but she still finds the situation reprehensible, believing that her son’s looking at Victoria’s nakedness was bad enough. John explains that he saw Victoria without clothes but did not look at her. “If other people want to turn seeing into looking it’s they who are wrong not me, isn’t it?” he asks. Mrs. Blaydon has no answer. She leaves her son with feelings of guilt.
Back at his private boarding school, John cannot get Victoria from his mind. In order to see her again, he has asked his brother David to invite her to his wedding. John is overjoyed when he receives a letter from her, telling him that she accepts. John is also emotionally involved with Marston, another boy at his school, though Marston frequently makes fun of him. One night, however, Marston climbs into John’s bed and begins to caress and kiss him. John struggles to free himself from Marston’s grip and makes a commotion, which attracts the attention of the master, who has the boys put on boxing gloves to resolve their differences. The headmaster defers further punishment, allowing John to go to London to attend his brother’s wedding.
John meets Victoria again but is anxious lest his mother embarrass her by making some sort of scene, as Mrs. Blaydon obviously does not like the mother of David’s bride. Yet Mrs. Blaydon’s antipathies do not prevent her establishing cordial relations with Victoria, and Mrs. Blaydon gives her consent for John to spend part of his holidays with Victoria and Victoria’s mother.
The visit takes place at Danbey Dale, where George Harkness, a friend of Victoria’s mother, has a farm. The two young people are left to themselves, and they arrange a picnic excursion to visit a nearby cave. When they reach one of the caverns, John makes a fire by which they will have their lunch....
(The entire section is 1340 words.)