It is nearing the end of summer, August 1865. The scene is on and around the Hutchins Bridge, in Montgomery Village, where eight boys have congregated after church one afternoon. In the scene there is a Sunday church barbeque occurring.
The boys, ages 14-20, are simply looking for something to do on one of the last days before school begins again for some of them. The day is hot and humid, some have jumped into the river to cool off, while others lounge on the bridge and relax. There is definitely a "pecking order" to this group of boys.
Homer Wheeler seems to be the one in charge, or at least the one who is most feared. His friend Giles has total faith that Homer can take any one of the boys, and, when the boys begin to discuss finding "something to do" he takes great pleasure in suggesting a boxing match between Homer and anyone brave enough to take the challenge.
Joseph Bush, a boy who is clearly not a fan of Homer's, takes the challenge. The boys begin to box, and it soon becomes a bit of a brawl. Meanwhile, a very strict and convicted Minister, Dinsmore Austin, who is giving a tour to a new teacher, hears the ruckus and makes his way from the green, to the bridge.
One of the boys, John Abbey, who is the "look-out" quickly goes inside and tells the boys that Reverend Austin is heading their way. Homer and Joseph are extremely winded, and a bit disheveled; Joseph has a fat and bleeding lip. Despite the chaos, the boys, find places in the bridge to "act naturally" when the Reverend enters the bridge with the new teacher, whom none of the boys has seen or met.
Reverend Austin enters holding his cane up and speaking in a disappointed and stern tone. Looking around he sees the "acting" and addresses it. The boys deny any wrongdoing and vouch for each other, repeatedly. The Reverend does not believe any of them and is about to introduce the teacher to them. The teacher stops Austin, and steps in before any introduction can be made. He simply introduces himself as a stranger to the area, and then asks if any of the boys are any good at bare knuckle fighting.
A few of the younger boys offer Joseph and Homer, only Joseph backs away. Homer is seated on the floor of the bridge, with one leg outstretched and the other bent. He has taken Alfred Hoyt's whittling, and has been taking chunks out of it since the Reverend and stranger entered the bridge. He has not made eye contact, and acts aloof and unaffected.
The teacher approaches and stands within two feet of Homer's legs. He asks him directly about his fighting ability, to which Homer announces that no one can beat him. The teacher, now fully aware that the others are intimidated by Homer, he replies, "I can." Homer is baited and looks up, with a sneer. The teacher/stranger invites him to the middle of the bridge. The reverend is visibly and vocally worried. The teacher quiets him and continues his invitation.
Homer stands up slowly, laughing a bit. The other boys begin cheering him on. The teacher stands ready in perfect bare knuckle fighting stance. Homer, puts on a more brutish display.
The boys begin to cheer wildly, but as quickly as they crescendo, Homer is knocked to the floor in a split second. He is partially unconscious. Giles runs to help, but is caught off guard by what he sees outside of the bridge. It is a soldier returning from the war. He is limping and moving very slowly. The boys run past Homer, who is sitting up at this point, and solemnly greet the soldier. The teacher puts out a hand to Homer, and introduces himself as the newest teacher in town, and that he looks forward to seeing Homer in school in a few weeks. Homer gets up, making no eye contact again, obviously embarrassed. Reverend Austin tells him to let it be a lesson to him, for fighting on a Sunday.
Austin, Homer and the teacher reach the other boys who are now asking the soldier, Dexter Davis, many questions. Dexter, obviously needing some rest, sits under the nearest shade tree, and tells the boys of his capture, injury, his time in the hospital, and his journey home. The boys are mesmerized by the story and very proud of Dexter.
The Reverend Austin suggests that they allow Dexter to make his way to the barbeque, where he can get some food and drink. As the Reverend and teacher help the injured Dexter to the churchyard, Homer and the boys lag behind. Homer tells the others that the person who beat him in a fight was none other than their new teacher. The boys all look in the direction of the new teacher, to which we hear Homer's last words: "It is going to be a very hard year."