The central character, around whom the action swirls, is "a shaky and quickeyed Swede," one of the three strangers who get off the train at Fort Romper, Nebraska. He is from New York, where he spent ten years working as a tailor. Furtively assessing the men around him, he resembles someone who is badly frightened. However, he inquires "about the crops and the price of labor." To some readers, the Swede's extreme fear and uneasiness in the up-and-coming but unruly railroad town of Fort Romper may seem excessive. To others, it will likely be understandable, considering the Swede's having been a tailor in New York, and his quite possibly having formed his ideas of a lawless western settlement full of trigger-happy gunmen, from the easily available dime westerns.
In a milieu where almost everyone, saint and sinner alike, generally tends to keep cool and not give offense unless there is provocation, he behaves erratically. Excited and fearing for his life, he is discourteous to his host (the hotel proprietor) and to the others by seeming to accuse them of wanting to kill him, and by openly wishing to leave. He boisterously dominates the evening meal, displays terrible table manners (nearly spearing the Easterner's hand with a fork when they are both reaching for a biscuit), glares wolfishly at his host, and maintains a threatening tone when he speaks. From here on, he will seem emotionally unbalanced and will tend to overreact to unimportant happenings or stimuli, with unhappy results. Later, when he leaves the hotel and struggles through the storm to a saloon and forces himself on the gambler playing cards, demanding that he drink with him (a fatal move), it is the final proof that he has never known how to keep in his place in this strange, tough Western town, or how to act (as best a stranger can) the way the locals act.
The other two strangers are a cowboy, tall and bronze, headed for a ranch located close to the Dakota Territory, and Mr. Blanc, "a little silent man from the East, who didn't look it,...
(The entire section is 827 words.)