Last Updated on August 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 363
The Narrator ("Staff Sergeant X")
The narrator is the main character, or protagonist, of this story. He has been invited to a wedding in England, and though he decides not to go, he begins to write his recollections of the bride. Six years ago, he was enlisted in the US Army, undergoing a training course in England. He describes his experience of meeting a young girl during this period; he had heard her singing in a children's choir and later met and had a conversation with her in a tea shop. The narrator is rather taken with her poise and maturity, and he is affected by the news that she and her brother have been orphaned. She requests a story from him, and he promises to write one for her.
The story then jumps forward in time some thirty-eight days to the "squalid" part of the story. The narrator calls himself Staff Sergeant X, and he has been seriously traumatized by his experiences in the war. He has endured a nervous breakdown and is suffering from a strong palsy in his hands and facial tics that contort his muscles involuntarily. However, after he receives a kind letter from the girl, her act of kindness begins to restore him to his former self.
Esmé is the name of the girl the narrator meets and is presumably the bride-to-be from the beginning of the story. As a girl, she tries hard to take care of her younger brother, Charles, after the death of their parents, and to conduct herself as an adult. When the narrator first meets Esmé, she is wearing a man's wristwatch that is much too large for her slender arm. She then reveals to the narrator that this watch belonged to her father.
After she requests a story with "squalor" (which she says she likes) from the narrator, she promises to write to him. When she finally does so, she includes the wristwatch as a kind of lucky charm. This selfless act then prompts a return of the narrator's sense of self; the girl's poignant and thoughtful gift deeply affects him and initiates the return of his "faculties" after his trauma.