The sheriff has two children: his daughter, Polly, and his son, the mulatto, a former enslaved person who is accused of murdering a local and well-respected white man. This story takes place in the American South, in the years following the Civil War and the abolition of slavery. We learn that the sheriff did own slaves prior to the fall of the Confederacy, and he evidently had sex with one of the female slaves, fathering a child by her. He then sold her, as well as the child, before slavery was abolished. That son returns to Troy and winds up in jail for a crime he did not commit. When he attempts to escape, Polly, having gotten the sheriff's gun, comes in and shoots her half-brother without knowing his real identity.