Jane Bramble is darning a sock while her son Harold studies. Harold asks his mother to help him with his recitation of a poem while he reads it aloud it from memory. After he recites a verse, his mother urges him to take a break from studying and go for a walk. He obeys, prompting his mother to reflect on his model behavior and intelligence. Harold’s perfection, readers learn, compels Jane and her husband Bill to lie to him about Bill’s profession.
The local clergy and Jane’s pompous brother, Major Percy Stokes, also steered the Brambles towards deceiving their son. Bill easily agreed to their plan, being a mild and obliging man at heart.
Bill makes his living as a “professional pugilist,” or boxer. Though he had formerly been quite proud of his career and had even carried around a number of news clippings testifying to his skills in the ring, after Harold was born he shunned the publicity—afraid that his “little gentleman” of a son would read about him. Harold excels in both his academics at a private school and his religious studies, and his parents thus pretend that Bill has a respectable job as a commercial traveler, or salesman, rather than admit the truth: that he is a boxer known as “Young Porky.”
Jane is happily thinking about Bill’s plans to retire after his next match when her brother and husband arrive home unexpectedly. Upon asking why Bill isn’t training at his gym, Percy responds excitedly about having convinced Bill of the sinful nature of his profession. Bill announces he is indeed not going to fight in his upcoming match, but maintains that it wasn’t Percy’s lectures about morality that spurred the decision; rather, the big match-up would be covered by major newspapers with his picture, and Harold would see it and realize the truth. While Jane has never liked her husband’s career, she points out that it’s earned them good money and allowed them to give Harold a superior education. Jane starts to cry even as Bill insists that this is for Harold’s own good.
Just then Bill’s trainer, Jerry, walks in and furiously pleads with Bill to come back to the gym—urging his client to consider the money, the crowds, the publicity, and Jerry’s own reputation as a trainer. Still, Bill refuses. When Harold then returns from his walk, Jerry seeks revenge on Bill by telling the boy the truth about his father’s profession.
To the adults’ communal shock, Harold reveals that he has already bet on the match—and, as such, his father mustn’t spoil his bet by refusing to fight. Harold then laments that Bill kept the truth from him, since being able to brag that his father was “Young Porky” would’ve surely stopped the other boys at school from taunting Harold by calling him “Goggles.”
Harold and his friends have followed the sport for years, he continues, before begging his father for a picture of him boxing to show everyone. A relieved Jerry and Bill return to the gym, and Harold resumes practicing his recitation.