An eleven year old English boy on holiday accompanies his mother to the seaside in a foreign country, possibly Africa where some English and French colonies are. There he goes swimming while his mother remains on the beach.
- On the other side of a small cape, Jerry spots some older boys stripping off their clothes and running down to the rocks. These boys are native to the area and speak a language Jerry cannot comprehend. They are "burned smooth dark brown."
- Envious of their freedom and camaraderie, Jerry wants to be with them and feel a part of their group:
To be with them, of them, was a craving that filled his whole body.
As he swims and dives the boys watch him, and when he approaches them, they make room for him. Jerry feels that he has been accepted.
- However, the boys soon outdo Jerry as they dive down and come out on the other side of the rock barrier. Sensing his inadequacy, Jerry clowns and the boys look at him "gravely, frowning," rejecting him as immature. "They swam back to the shore without a look at him." Alone, Jerry cries.
- This rejection makes Jerry want to do what the older boys can, so he secretly practices holding his breath until he feels he can also swim through the tunnel, so that he can feel himself their equal.
- Once Jerry is able to swim through the tunnel, he notices the local boys diving and horsing around about a half mile away.
He did not want them. He wanted nothing but to get back home and lie down.
Now, Jerry does not care what the older native boys think of him: "It was no longer of the least importance to go to the bay." Jerry has made his rite of passage and is their equal now.
At first insecure and wanting to be accepted by the older boys, Jerry works to be able to swim through the tunnel as they can because he feels this feat is a mark of maturity. When he can do this, Jerry realizes that he has attained some mark of manhood, and he realizes that he does not need others to feel worthy.