The name of the woman in the story’s title is not provided, but her husband is called Lederman. In the first part of the story, the narrator summarizes the couple’s marriage and life together in the Mexican settlement where Lederman operates a mining enterprise. Lederman, who is 20 years older than his wife, is a humorless workaholic who is dedicated to making the mine produce. He is described as “[a] little, wiry, twisted fellow … with brown eyes and greying hair” and as “a little dynamo of energy.” Originally from the Netherlands, Lederman had moved to the United States to seek gold in the West, and then had gone south Mexico. Over time, Lederman had changed from being a “wastrel” to a dedicated and accomplished miner, but the low demand for silver in the global economy led to his mine closing down.
Lederman had met his wife in California, and she had married him expecting an adventure. Through her years of running their household and raising their two children, she has not developed any affection for the “deadness” of the local town and landscape. He changes little during those decades, but understands only vaguely that there is “some curious inaccessibility on his wife's part.”
The narrator suggests a paradox in Lederman’s attitude toward and treatment of his wife. On the one hand, he admires the “dazzling California girl from Berkeley” and is a good husband who dotes on her. On the other hand, he is jealous, domineering, and over-protective. He guards her and does not allow her to go anywhere alone, and “kept her in an invincible slavery.”
When a young white engineer comes to stay with them, their conversations reveal Lederman’s lack of imagination and deep-seated prejudices against the indigenous Mexican people who live in the region. He speaks dismissively of the “wild” Indians in the mountains, accusing them of killing missionaries. When the visitor presses on with his notion that their villages might be “wonderful,” Lederman pronounces strongly racist views:
All savages behave more or less alike: rather low-down and dirty, unsanitary, with a few cunning tricks.