An unnamed narrator is traveling to the small English town of Hingham in search of lodging. Near the village church, with an ancient graveyard, he discovers a large house with a flat for lease. While he describes the grounds as overgrown, the house in mild disrepair, and its inhabitants eccentric, the narrator moves in and befriends his landlady’s husband, Dr. Henry Selwyn. During one conversation, Selwyn tells the narrator about an encounter in his youth, in which he had befriended a sixty-five-year-old alpine guide in Switzerland, whose death, presumably in a glacial crevasse, sent Selwyn into a deep depression.
After moving from the flat, the narrator learns from Selwyn that the doctor is not English by birth, as the narrator had assumed, but a Lithuanian Jew named Hersch Seweryn, whose family had emigrated to London in 1899. Selwyn confesses to a growing homesickness. Not long after, the narrator learns that Selwyn has committed suicide with a hunting rifle. The narrator then reads an article in a Swiss newspaper about the discovery of an alpine guide whose body had recently been released by the glacier—the same man who Selwyn had known and mourned.
The narrator later reads a news report of the suicide of his schoolteacher, Paul Bereyter, in 1984. Because of an unexplained line in the obituary, reporting that during the Third Reich, Bereyter had been forbidden from teaching, the narrator is compelled to uncover the full story. Paul, who was invariably called by his first name by students and townspeople alike, was a freethinking and devoted teacher with little patience for convention or sanctimony.
After describing his own recollections of Paul, the narrator gains a fuller account of his teacher’s...
(The entire section is 714 words.)