The story begins with Mrs. Hopewell and Mrs. Freeman having their morning chat over the breakfast table. Mrs. Hopewell owns the farm on which Mr. and Mrs. Freeman work as tenants. Mrs. Freeman sees herself as a no-nonsense woman who is never wrong. Mrs. Hopewell likes to see the good in everyone and everything. Because no one else had applied for the position, she hired the Freemans, despite Mrs. Freeman’s reputation for getting into everyone’s business. She has kept the Freemans on for four years because she feels that they are “good country people.”

Mrs. Hopewell has a daughter she calls Joy. While away at college, Joy legally changed her name to Hulga. Mrs. Hopewell believes her daughter only changed her name to spite her, so she refuses to use it. Hulga is large, blonde, thirty-two years old, well-educated, and disabled. She lost her leg in a hunting accident when she was ten years old and has a weak heart. Mrs. Hopewell treats Hulga like a child, and Hulga responds to her by acting childish.

Since her mother fails to see Hulga’s “real” self, Hulga constantly works to irritate her. She stomps around the house loudly, bangs doors, and behaves rudely with everyone. Hulga feels that had it not been for her weak heart, she would have stayed far away from her mother and this place, teaching at a college with educated people who understand her.

One morning, a Bible salesman comes to their house. Although Mrs. Hopewell does not buy any Bibles, the salesman manages to gain her sympathy. He introduces himself as Manley Pointer and claims to have a weak heart. Mrs. Hopewell invites him to stay for dinner because he is “good country people,” and she never wants to appear rude. He then recounts his humble yet tragic upbringing, revealing that he and his twelve siblings were raised by his widowed mother after his father’s fatal accident when he was eight. Although Hulga ignores Manley during the meal, she secretly agrees to go on a picnic with him the next day. She plans to seduce him because she is smarter and more sophisticated than him.

The next day, Hulga and Manley walk through the countryside, eventually ending up in a barn hayloft. Manley expresses awe at Hulga’s bravery in the face of adversity and praises her uniqueness. He kisses her and repeatedly tells her that he loves her. She refuses to say that she loves him in return. She tells him that she does not believe in love. She believes in nothing. Manley refuses to take no for an answer, and Hulga finally relents. He demands that she prove her love by showing him where her artificial leg joins her body. Though this request takes her by surprise, his earnestness eventually wins her over.

Hulga shows him her wooden leg, takes it off, and puts it back on. She then allows him to remove it, but he refuses to replace it. She feels helpless. When he pulls a Bible from his valise, he reveals that it is hollowed out, hiding a flask of whiskey, some obscene playing cards, and a box of condoms. To Hulga’s shock, he wants Hulga to drink and fool around with him. She demands her leg back, but he refuses. He is surprised that a person who believes in nothing would suddenly behave so morally. When she calls him a hypocritical Christian, he laughs at her. He says that he doesn’t “believe in that crap” and that he is not naïve, as she has assumed.

When Hulga continues to resist him, Manley packs up his things, takes her wooden leg, and runs away. Before leaving her there alone, he tells her that he has pulled this con many times in the past. She will never catch him since Manley Pointer is not his real name and he never stays in one place for long. He says that she is not so smart and that he has believed in nothing his whole life.

Mrs. Freeman and Mrs. Hopewell watch as Manley exits the woods and heads for the highway. Mrs. Hopewell remarks that the world would be a better place if everyone were as simple as him. Mrs. Freeman suggests that that will never happen.