On the Face of It


Susan Hill

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On the Face of It Summary

Mr. Lamb, an old man, is sitting in his garden when he encounters Derry, a fourteen-year-old boy. Derry is startled to see Lamb, as he thought the house and garden were abandoned. Mr. Lamb is unperturbed, and he invites the boy to sit with him and enjoy nature. As they talk Derry is reserved and wary, and also somewhat combative. He assumes that the old man is afraid of him because of his appearance, and it’s revealed that half of Derry’s face has been burned by acid, so most people avoid or pity him. Lamb seems unconcerned by this, and he says that he has a tin leg—his real one was “blown off” in the war. The neighborhood children call him “Lamey-Lamb” because of this, but he doesn’t mind.

The two converse, with Derry complaining about how other people treat him, and Mr. Lamb inviting the boy to help him pick crab apples later in the day. Derry explains that he avoids people because of how they react to him, and in response Lamb tells a story of a man who locked himself in his room to avoid any kind of accident or rejection, but ended up dying when a picture fell on his head in bed.

They discuss Mr. Lamb’s house, and Derry likes the fact that there are no curtains on the windows. Lamb says he has many friends, and people come and go at will in his house and garden, but Derry isn’t sure if he believes this. Derry also worries that he might scare away Lamb’s other friends if he were to come back and meet them.

Derry considers Lamb’s offer to help him pick crab apples, but says he would have to let his mother know where he is first, and he lives three miles away. Lamb says he could run home and then come back later in the day. Lamb goes to tend to his bees, assuming that Derry won’t actually come back, as the boy runs away.

At Derry’s house, his mother forbids him from going back to see Mr. Lamb again, as she has heard rumors about the old man. Derry declares that he hates living at his own house, and she can’t stop him from going to see Mr. Lamb. He runs off.

Mr. Lamb is picking crab apples by himself when he falls from his ladder to the ground. Just then Derry appears. He kneels by the old man and says, “I came back. Lamey-Lamb. I did…come back.”