The light blue hue of the Palace Hotel, like the shade of a heron’s legs, is a striking sight to railway passengers disembarking at Fort Romper, Nebraska. Its owner, Irishman Pat Scully, personally meets the morning and evening trains to “work his seductions” on potential customers. One wintry morning he collars three such “prisoners,” a “shaky and quick-eyed” Swede from New York, a Dakota cowboy named Bill, and Mr. Blanc, a “little silent” easterner. In the hotel’s small front room, the guests come on an old farmer and Scully’s son Johnnie playing a card game called high-five. A conscientious host, Scully furnishes the guests with water and towels, gets Johnnie to take their baggage upstairs, and confers with his wife and daughters about the midday meal. Outside, the snow and the wind are reaching blizzard proportions.
Almost immediately, the Swede begins behaving peculiarly. Nervous and defensive, he laughingly asserts that “some of these Western communities were very dangerous.” When a quarrel terminates the card game between Johnnie and the farmer, the Swede joins the table, pairing up with Mr. Blanc against Johnnie and Bill. The latter is a “board whacker,” which unhinges the Swede. Whenever the cowboy played a winning card, he “whanged” it on the table, causing Johnnie to chuckle. Suddenly, the Swede says, “I suppose there have been a good many men killed in this room.” Astonished, the others take issue with him. Believing his life in danger, the Swede pleads that he does not want to fight.
“Have you gone daffy?” Scully asks him while the Swede is packing upstairs: “We’re goin’ to have a line of ilictric street-cars in this town next spring. . . . Not to mintion the four churches and the smashin’ big brick school-house.” Refusing to accept money for the room, Scully shows him a portrait of his deceased daughter Carrie and his elder son, who is an attorney in Lincoln. Bringing out a bottle of whiskey, he insists that the Swede take a drink.
Downstairs, the men argue about the Swede’s abnormal behavior. The cowboy thinks him a phony, “some kind of a Dutchman,” while Mr. Blanc figures he was frightened by Western dime-novels....
(The entire section is 907 words.)