The unnamed narrator of this story, the father of a nine-year-old boy nicknamed Schatz, notices one morning that his son seems ill. He urges the boy to go back to bed, but the boy denies that he’s sick until his father feels his forehead and confirms that he has a fever.
The doctor comes to examine the boy. He takes the boy’s temperature and tells them that the boy has a fever of 102 degrees. Downstairs, the doctor gives medicine to the boy’s father and diagnoses the boy with mild influenza, which he says isn’t dangerous as long as the fever stays below 104 degrees.
When the doctor leaves, the father reads to his son aloud from a book about pirates. He notes that the boy looks very pale and inattentive. Eventually the boy tells his father that he doesn’t have to stay in the room with him, “if it bothers you.” His father denies this, but the boy only repeats himself, “No, I mean you don’t have to stay if it’s going to bother you.” Reasoning that his son must be feeling a bit lightheaded, the father gives him more medicine and leaves him alone to rest.
The father heads outside with his dog to hunt quail. The landscape is entirely coated with frozen sleet. He kills several birds with difficulty due to the icy conditions, but he is happy to have found a covey of quail so close by and looks forward to hunting more birds in the future.
When he returns home, the father learns that the boy hasn’t allowed anyone to come into his room, insisting that no one else must catch his fever. The father goes in, anyway, and takes his temperature again: 102.4 degrees. The boy asks about the temperature, and his father says it’s nothing to worry about. The boy admits that he can’t help thinking about it. His father gives him the next dose of medicine, and the boy asks if it will do any good. His father assures him that it will, but the boy still seems preoccupied.
Suddenly the boy asks his father what time he’s going to die. The father is startled and reassures him that he isn’t going to die. The boy replies that he heard the doctor say his temperature was 102 degrees, and he learned from his classmates in France that a fever over 44 degrees is deadly. The father realizes that his son has spent the whole day waiting to die.
He explains to the boy that France and America use different thermometers and units of temperature, just like they use different units of distance—miles and kilometers. The boy simply says “Oh,” but his whole body relaxes. The story ends with the father noting how the next day the boy had loosened his “hold over himself” so much that “he cried very easily at things that were of no importance.”