The narrator, an unnamed boy, explains that his classmate, Joe Dillon, introduced him and his friends to the Wild West. The narrator continues that Joe has a “small library” of adventure stories such as The Union Jack, Pluck, and The Halfpenny Marvel at his disposal which he uses as inspiration for their games. The boys’ favorite game is to stage-mock “cowboy and Indian” battles. Every day after school, the narrator and the rest of the neighborhood boys meet in Joe Dillon’s back garden in order to enact these battles. The narrator continues that he and his friends enjoyed two variations of the game: sometimes Joe Dillon and his younger brother Leo would defend the loft of their stable while the rest of the boys tried to seize it by storm, and other times they would stage a pitched battle on the grass. No matter which version they played, Joe Dillon always wins and celebrates his success with a victory dance. Trying to beat Joe Dillon is futile because he plays “too fiercely,” especially for the younger, more timid boys who were invited to play. The narrator then quips that Joe Dillon is such a wild and ferocious boy that the narrator and the rest of the people in their neighborhood were stunned to discover that Joe Dillon had a vocation for the priesthood.   

The narrator continues that these adventure stories are particularly important to him because he is a quiet and timid child. The narrator remarks that the adventure found in the literature of the Wild West is “remote” from his unassuming nature. As a result, it provides the narrator with an effective “escape” from his daily life. He continues that his interest in adventure stories is not exclusively limited to Wild West narratives and that he is especially drawn to American detective stories, in part because they were often “traversed from time to time by unkempt fierce and beautiful girls.”

Such games and the fictional adventure stories on which they are based bond the narrator and his fellow neighborhood boys together, both in leisurely release and secrecy. As the narrator explains, he and his fellow students surreptitiously circulate the magazines that carry the stories at school. The narrator is adamant that there is “nothing wrong in these stories.” However, the reading of such fiction is not encouraged by the boys’ teachers. Sometimes the boys were not as careful as the should have been. The narrator recalls one time when Father Butler caught Leo Dillon reading The Halfpenny Marvel in the middle of a Roman history lesson—Father Butler noticed that Leo Dillon was not paying attention and he demanded to see what the boy had concealed in his pocket. Father Butler was outraged when he discovered that one of his students was reading a story called “The Apache Chief,” and all of the other boys scrambled to arrange their features into what they hoped was an “innocent” expression so that they would not get into trouble as well. Father Butler insulted the adventure story, claiming it was not real literature and was likely written by a disreputable author. He was particularly annoyed that his students would dare to read such low-brow magazines because they attended a prestigious Catholic school.