(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The narrator recalls that, when he was thirteen, he went on a skiing trip to Switzerland with an older brother, spent an enjoyable day skiing with an older youth, and, for no reason he could understand, was accused of scandalous behavior of a kind unfamiliar to him. Staying at the same lodge as the narrator and his brother, a student at Oxford University, is Archer, also a student at Oxford. The brother does not like Archer. The narrator, however, is very impressed by Archer’s physique and bearing when, for example, he sees him skiing bare-chested in a cavalier, robust fashion.

He is of the impression that Archer takes little interest in him until the two meet on a sun terrace, where the narrator has gone to read a book, drink hot chocolate, and eat “delicious rhumbabas and little tarts filled with worm-castles of chestnut puree topped with caps of whipped cream.” That afternoon tea illustrates the sensibility of the narrator—although he is only thirteen, he is a devotee of the luxurious.

The book the young man is reading is one by Leo Tolstoy. He is puzzled by Tolstoy’s description of one of the characters as an illegitimate child. After Archer initiates conversation, the younger youth ventures to ask what the term means, but in his profound innocence he cannot believe the explanation that Archer gives him—that an illegitimate child is one born out of wedlock. The books Archer says he likes to read indicate that he is rather more worldly than the young narrator. One, he says, was entitled Flaming Sex; it “was by a French woman who married an English knight and then went back to France to shoot a French doctor.” He calls such a book a “real life” story, but it, like others he describes, appears worldly to the point of being slightly sordid and risque.

Archer is, then, similar to the narrator in that both gravitate toward the hedonistic. He invites his new young friend to ski with him the next day. The next morning, the narrator’s infatuation...

(The entire section is 822 words.)