Peter Pasquier moves from England to Paris, where he is called Pierre, at the age of five years. His father is a dreamy-eyed inventor, his mother a soft-spoken woman devoted to her family. Peter has many childhood friends, but the dearest are Mimsy Seraskier and her beautiful mother, who live nearby. Mimsy is a delicate, shy child. She and Peter are inseparable friends, making up their own code language so that no one can intrude on their secret talks.
Now twelve years old, Peter faces the death of his father, who had been killed in an explosion, and less than one week later his mother dies giving birth to a stillborn fetus. His mother’s cousin, Colonel Ibbetson, arrives from England to take Peter home with him. Peter weeps when he is forced to leave his friends, and Mimsy is so ill from her grief that she cannot even tell him good-bye. Colonel Ibbetson gives Peter his name, and he becomes Peter Ibbetson. The colonel sends him to school, where he spends six years. Events at the school touch him very little, and he spends most of his time dreaming of his old life in Paris.
When he leaves school, Peter spends some time with Colonel Ibbetson. The colonel’s only request is that Peter become a gentleman, but Peter begins to doubt that the colonel himself fits the description, for he has a very poor reputation among his acquaintances. His most recent victim is Mrs. Deane, a woman he had ruined with malicious lies. The colonel seems to derive great pleasure from telling scandalous tales about everyone he knows, and Peter grows to hate him for this habit. After a time, he runs away to London and joins the cavalry for a year. Following his term in the army, he is apprenticed to Mr. Lintot, an architect he had met through Colonel Ibbetson. He takes rooms in Pentonville and begins a new chapter in his life there.
Peter works industriously for Mr. Lintot and achieves some success, but his outer life is lonely and dull. The only real joy he finds is in music, which moves him deeply. He saves money carefully to attend a concert occasionally. His nightly dreams are still of his childhood in Paris and of Mimsy, but these dreams are becoming blurred.
Peter views the belief in a creator and life after death with skepticism, believing instead that humans would have to work back to the very beginning of time before they could understand anything about a deity. He believes it is possible to go back, if only he knows the way. His ideas on sin are unorthodox; to Peter, the only real sin is cruelty to the mind or body of any living thing. During this period of his life, his only acquaintances are the friends of Mr. and Mrs. Lintot, for Peter is a shy young man, too much concerned with his speculations and dreams for social gaiety. At one party, however, he sees a great lady who is to be his guiding star for the rest of his life. He is told she is the duchess of Towers, and although he is not introduced to her, he notices her look at him in a strange manner, almost as if she finds his face to be familiar.
Sometime after his first sight of the duchess of Towers, Peter revisits Paris, where he finds his old home and those of his friends replaced with modern bungalows. The only news he has of his old friends is that Madame Seraskier had died and that Mimsy and her father had left Paris many years ago. He returns to his hotel, emotionally exhausted from the disappointments of the day.
(The entire section is 1405 words.)