A geological student asks an old friend of his about the recent murder of a station agent.
The outer narrator meets with his old friend Rodgers by Sterling, Colorado, and asks about the murdered agent at Grover station. Rodgers explains that on 31 December there was supposed to be a ball at Cheyenne, Wyoming. His friend Larry asked him to ask Helen if she would be available to go with him. Helen replied that she had told Mr Freymark she would go with him, but she would cancel as Larry took precedence over him. Freymark then went to the station and overheard the two men make arrangements as to sending her flowers, and left saying he had heard what he wanted to hear. Later, Larry didn't turn up and Rodgers went to pick up Helen and told her Larry was late. At the ball, she danced with Rodgers until Freymark showed up and she danced with him. By the end of the night, Larry's spaniel Duke came hurtling at Freymark, who soon disappeared from the place. The next day, Rodgers went about the station and then up to Grover, Colorado. There, he found a blood stain on Larry's bed but thought it must have been nosebleed. During the night however, he got woken up by what looked like Larry's ghost, writing on the chalk board. The next morning, he realised the ghost had written the number of a train, where Larry's body was to be found in Omaha. Upon seeing the body, Rodgers realised the hands were stained by chalk. By then, Freymark had gone, never to be found again. The Division Superintendent did not believe him, after Freymark admitted to drinking brandy that night.
Mr Freymark He lived in Paris many years and therefore speaks several European languages. He likes to gamble at card games. Although he pretends to be a Jew, he is the son of a Chinese slavegirl his father bought when he was living there.
The plotline was partly taken from an 1893 short story by Dorothy Canfield Fisher. Moreover, it has been noted for its trope of the grotesque, which will reappear in Cather's later novels.
The story may have been inspired by Willa Cather's 1898 visit to Cheyenne, Wyoming, where her brother Douglass at the railroad station. Moreover, Cather's sister has said the story was written with his help.