The Fourth of June is an astonishingly good first novel by a 23-year-old Old Etonian about life at Britain's smartest ""public"" school. In particular, it is the story of two boys who for a while are friends, one of whom is a ""guinea pig"". That is, he is one of a small number of boys from the publicly supported grammar schools who are sent to the fashionable public schools under an experimental scheme started by the post-war Labour government. Mr. Benedictus makes plain that neither the boys nor the masters take kindly to guinea pigs, and Scarfe has the additional fault of being rather absurdly religious. At Eton, the senior boys, or actually a co-opted group of senior boys, have disciplinary powers over their juniors, including the power of beating them with a cane. When Scarfe gets beaten into paralysis while his erstwhile friend, promoted into and corrupted by the senior group, stands by, a scandal has to be hushed up. The culminating events of the novel take place on the day of the annual school fete (hence the title) -- a kind of Class Day--when Britain's top people come down to watch their sons play cricket and parade in boats. A book of changing moods -- sometimes a singeing indictment, sometimes a comic revel, and even occasionally a sentimental salute -- makes one wonder how such a relatively brutal system produces its regular complement of languid and charming boys.