Amid the lingering London ruins of the bombing raids of World War II, a gang of adolescent boys pass their summer holidays carrying out various projects of collective mischief. They are the inhabitants of a neighborhood known as Wormsley Common, one of the poorest sections of the city. They meet and play in a communal parking lot, which adjoins a battered but stately eighteenth century house. The house, more than two hundred years old, stands alone, “like a jagged tooth,” while its neighbors lie in wartime rubble. Blackie, the hitherto undisputed leader, is indirectly challenged one day by the newest recruit, a boy known as “T.” From the time he first joined the group at the beginning of the summer, T. has had little or nothing to say, simply voting “yes” or “no” with the rest of this curiously democratic collection of children.
Now T. intrigues the boys with a plan of diabolic proportions, an enterprise far beyond any that Blackie could conceive. The house that adjoins their parking lot play area, T. has discovered, was built by Christopher Wren, Great Britain’s greatest architect. It was Wren who, in the late seventeenth century, designed and built Saint Paul’s Cathedral, the most notable of London landmarks. The sole inhabitant of the house is the owner, an elderly and somewhat cranky gentleman named Mr. Thomas, whom the boys call “Old Misery.”
T. has developed a curious fixation on the house. He gains entry by the simple device of asking Mr. Thomas if he can see it. Evidently flattered by the child’s interest and attention, Mr. Thomas gives him a tour. The house is clearly an architectural and historical wonder, an enduring remnant of a bygone era when such buildings were the careful work of artistic craftsmen. Amid the antique china and eighteenth century paneling, one particular architectural wonder catches T’s attention: a two-hundred-year-old staircase like a corkscrew, held up by nothing. He has learned that Mr. Thomas will be away on a long weekend holiday. T. proposes that they surreptitiously enter the house during that time and destroy it. Blackie and the others are at first hesitant but also are intrigued with an action so daring and audacious. The boys undertake their task with quiet enthusiasm, completely under the spell of T’s compelling leadership. In the space of a day and a half, they destroy the house with saws, hammers, screwdrivers, and sledgehammers. Nothing is left standing or intact but the four outside walls. Even the unexpected early return of Mr. Thomas does not daunt T., who quickly devises a plan to lure the old man into the outdoor lavatory, where he is locked up for the night.
As a finishing touch, T. and the boys fasten a rope to the supporting struts on the outside of the house and tie the other end to a large truck left in the parking lot for the weekend. The driver arrives early the following morning, starts his truck, and proceeds toward the street. Suddenly there is a long rumbling crash, complete with bricks bouncing in the road ahead. The driver stops his truck and climbs down. The house that once stood with such dignity among the bombed-out ruins has disappeared. Freed from his lavatory prison by the truck driver, who responds to his shouting, Thomas utters a sobbing cry of dismay: “My house . . . where’s my house?” The driver surveys the scene of the devastation and laughs. Thomas becomes angry and indignant. “I’m sorry,” the driver reassures him, “but I can’t help it. There’s nothing personal, but you got to admit it’s funny.”