The story's protagonist, Arthur Fidelman, is a frustrated artist. He has arrived in Rome to study the painter Giotto. Thus far, he has only completed a single chapter of his research. Fidleman's pursuits are thwarted when he meets a pesky and persistent beggar and peddler named Shimon Susskind, who follows the scholar around relentlessly. Susskind wants Fidelman to give him a suit. Fidelman refuses but does eventually give him a dollar, then, later, five dollars.
Fidelman discovers his briefcase has been stolen. He knows Susskind is behind the theft and the pursuit. Now Fidelman is the one doing the chasing. The return of the briefcase is of paramount importance to Fidelman, as it contains his single completed chapter; without it, he feels he cannot continue his writing.
Fidelman tracks Susskind to a church and then to a cemetery where the beggar also says prays for the dead for money. Fidelman discovers that Susskind has burned his chapter, because, he claims, it was devoid of "spirit."
Although Fidelman wants to forgive Susskind, Susskind runs away.