Mrs. Pierpoint and her daughter, Ethel, visit Zoe Blundell to inquire about the possibility of Leonard Ferris as a suitor for Ethel. Mrs. Pierpoint wants Zoe’s opinion because Leonard is one of Zoe’s tame robins, a group of male friends and admirers who gathers around Zoe. Unknown to the Pierpoints, Zoe’s marriage is breaking up and Leonard is sexually attracted to Zoe. Zoe at first believes her relationship with Leonard is harmless because she feels much, much older than he. Leonard is thirty-two years old, five years younger than Zoe, but he is a “fresh, boyish young man” and Zoe is a “mature woman.” Zoe’s husband, Theodore, is forty-six years old.
Zoe’s perspective reflects society’s double standard that an older man may be interested in a younger woman but an older woman should not be interested in a younger man. After the Pierpoints leave, Leonard arrives to see Zoe and confesses he does not want to marry anyone, although he is attracted to Ethel because she reminds him of Zoe.
Leonard leaves and the Honorable Peter Mottram arrives to discuss Zoe’s marriage problems. Peter, a friend of Zoe and Theodore who also functions as an informal marriage counselor between the Blundells, tells Zoe that her marriage is like some trophies on a shelf. The trophies themselves are not valuable so much as the struggle to win them. Zoe, he thinks, has to keep the trophies—like her marriage—new and fresh. Then Theodore arrives, and Peter tries to talk Theodore into mending the marriage. Peter gives another analogy: He describes a body of water between Folkestone and Boulogne in which there is a midchannel, a shoal that causes the passengers of a boat to experience rough travel. Peter says, “Everythin’s looked as enticin’ as could be; but as we’ve neared the Ridge—mid-channel—I’ve begun to feel fidgety, restless, out o’ sorts—hatin’ myself and hatin’ the man who’s been sharin’ my cabin with me.” He tells the Blundells the crisis will end if they can wait. After Peter leaves, the Blundells do not heed his advice. Instead, they fight, and Theodore walks out on Zoe....
(The entire section is 872 words.)