(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Having grown up in a small, provincial town in Ireland, the narrator, Ted Magner, states that he has been best friends with Terry Coughlan since they were children. Terry has always been well-spoken and likes classical music and languages. “Whatever he took up, he mastered,” says Magner of his friend. Magner remembers the friendly arguments that they had when they were young. “Maybe you don’t remember the sort of arguments you had when you were young,” the narrator fondly tells his readers, knowing that they do. The argument that he recalls, however, is the one he had with Terry about writers. Magner lists Guy de Maupassant as one of the greatest writers. Terry disagrees, however, saying that there is nothing “noble” about Maupassant’s stories; rather, they are slick, coarse, and commonplace.

As they reach young manhood, the two friends drift away from close contact with each other, but Magner continues to be fond of Terry. Terry takes a job teaching in the monks’ school, and Magner gets a job elsewhere, beginning to associate with a different crowd, people such as Donnelan, of whom Terry does not approve. Magner tells the reader that Terry slowly grows disillusioned by the behavior of the monks at the school and is discouraged by a form of cheating that the monks condone, allowing one boy to take a state examination using another boy’s name. Magner later learns from Donnelan that Terry has begun to drink. His first reaction is, “A sparrow would have about the same consumption of liquor.” Magner sees Terry drunk about six months later, however, and realizes that Terry drinks constantly, keeping his drinking a secret from his family and from his sister, Tess. Magner understands why Terry is so secretive: “You might almost say he was drinking unknown to himself. Other people could be drunkards but not he.” He wonders whether he should confront Terry about his drinking but realizes that he cannot...

(The entire section is 792 words.)