Imagining they are in the Wild West, a group of schoolboys stage-mock “cowboy and Indian” battles. The narrator, an unnamed boy, explains that Joe Dillon, the host and consistent winner, always ends his victory with a dance. Such games and the fictional adventure stories on which they are based bond these 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 recalls one time when Father Butler caught Leo Dillon, Joe’s younger brother, with one such publication in his pocket. Father Butler scolded Leo for reading such material instead of his Roman history.

The narrator yearns for more concrete adventures and organizes a plan with Leo and another boy named Mahony to skip school one day and walk through Dublin to visit the ships along the wharf and the Pigeon House, Dublin’s electrical power station. He confirms the pact by collecting sixpence from Leo and Mahony, and they all promise to meet at ten the next morning. However, only Mahony arrives as agreed. While the narrator and Mahony walk south through North Dublin, two poor boys approach them and yell insults, thinking them Protestant. Resisting retribution, the boys continue until they reach the river, and there they buy some food and watch the Dublin water traffic and laborers. They cross the river in a ferryboat, buy some more food on the other side, and wander the streets until they reach an open field where they rest on a slope.

The boys are alone for a while until an older man appears in the distance, walking toward them while leaning on a stick. He gradually approaches and passes the boys, but then backtracks and joins them. The man begins to talk, reminiscing about his boyhood and talking about books, such as the works of Lord Lytton, who wrote romances. The conversation then turns to “sweethearts” as the man asks the boys if they have many girlfriends, a question that surprises the narrator. As the story continues, the narrator notes the peculiar appearance and behavior of the man: his yellow- and gap-toothed smile, how he twitched occasionally, and, most of all, his monotonous repetition of phrases.

The man leaves for a moment. Disturbed, the narrator suggests that he and Mahony assume the code names of Smith and Murphy if the old man asks for their names. As the man returns, Mahony runs off to chase a stray cat, leaving the narrator to listen to the man’s peculiar monologues alone. The man remarks that Mahony seems like the kind of boy that gets whipped at school, and from there launches into a diatribe about disciplining boys who misbehave, insisting that any boy who talks to a girl should be whipped, and that he himself would enjoy executing the punishment. At a pause in the man’s speech, the narrator rises and announces that he must depart. He calls for Mahony, using the name Murphy, who runs across the field toward him in response. The narrator is embarrassed, both by the false bravery that is obvious in his voice and that Mahony ran towards him as if he needed help, and he notes that he has always “despised [Mahony] a little.”