A train passes through Fort Romper, Nebraska, a small settlement on the edge of the lawless American West. The view through the train window is of the Palace Hotel, whose blue paint contrasts starkly with the lifeless green and brown landscape. Pat Scully, the hotel proprietor, waits in the cold to persuade a few unclaimed passengers to stay at his establishment for the evening. After brief introductions, the Cowboy, the Swede, and the Easterner follow Scully back to the hotel.
Inside the hotel, Scully urges his son Johnnie, who is playing cards with the old farmer, to bring the guests’ suitcases upstairs. The men engage in small talk over dinner, during which each seems to be sizing the other up. The Swede is quiet and hesitant, while the Cowboy and the Easterner seem agreeable, if a bit wary. At dinner, the Swede makes a mocking, seemingly jovial comment about the dangers of the traveling in the West, which the others don't know how to interpret.
After dinner, Scully announces a blizzard. Johnnie, who drove away the old farmer with his hot-headedness, asks the Cowboy, the Swede, and the Easterner to join him in a game of cards. They agree, though the Swede is reluctant. The men play an intense game, which the Swede interrupts by suggesting that someone has been murdered in the front room of the hotel. Johnnie immediately becomes defensive, and the Swede tells the other men that he believes he will die in the hotel that night. The other men think the Swede is insane, and the conflict is only interrupted when Scully comes into the room and demands to know what's going on. The Swede becomes overwhelmed and fearful, and insists on leaving. He goes upstairs to pack his bags.
Scully meets the Swede upstairs. The Swede is immediately suspicious of Scully, who tries to have a conversation with him about his other children by showing him photos in the spare room. The two have a drink together, and the Swede suspects that Scully is trying to poison him. Meanwhile, the Cowboy, Johnnie, and the Easterner are downstairs speculating on the Swede's character. The Cowboy reveals that he believes the Swede is actually a Dutchman, based on his accent, and while the Easterner suggests that simple fear is the cause of the Swede’s perplexing behavior. The Easterner suspects that dime novels the Swede read about the West have made him believe he is in horrible danger.
Scully and the Swede return downstairs, and the Swede decides to stay in the hotel after all. Scully admits to the men, when the Swede leaves the room, that the Swede is acting strangely, but he believes that the Swede is “okay now.” The men continue their card game, which again becomes heated. In the middle of the game, the Swede suddenly accuses Johnnie of cheating. Johnnie finally loses his temper with the Swede, and a brawl starts over the card table.
The conflict escalates, leading the men to a more violent fight outside in the blizzard. Johnnie and the Swede square off, with the Easterner as a fearful and skeptical bystander and Scully and the Cowboy urging Johnnie on. The Swede wins the fight, and makes an arrogant, haughty exit from the hotel with his suitcase. Meanwhile, a crowd of women, consisting of the hotel staff and the hotel proprietess, rush to Johnnie's aid. Johnnie's mother shames Scully for allowing his son to get so badly hurt. The other guests, Scully and Johnnie are relieved that the Swede has left.
The Swede makes his way through town, catching sight of the train in the distance as he walks toward the saloon. Inside, he orders a drink from the barkeep, and demands the attention of the other patrons of the saloon, which includes the notorious Gambler. When the men refuse to drink with the Swede, the men get into a fight–during the brawl, the Gambler pulls out a knife and stabs the Swede, who dies on the floor of the bar.
The story ends sometime later, when the Easterner and the Cowboy meet up after the Swede's murder trial. The Easterner reveals that the Gambler was given a light sentence for the murder, and the Cowboy blames the Swede for his aggressive behavior, suggesting it lead to his early death. The Easterner disagrees, and tells the Cowboy that Johnnie did, in fact, cheat at cards, but that he was too afraid to say anything at the time. The Easterner then says that all the men are equally guilty for the death of the Swede, not only the Gambler who stuck him with a knife.