The story recounts an evening in the life of a man named Farrington, frequently referred to simply as "the man". Farrington’s difficulties begin at his clerical job when his boss Mr. Alleyne berates him for not having finished an assignment. Instead of applying himself immediately to the task, the alcoholic Farrington slips out of the office for a quick beer. When Mr. Alleyne yells at Farrington again, Farrington replies with an impertinent remark and has to apologize. We learn that Farrington’s relationship with his superior has never been a good one, partly due to Mr. Alleyne’s overhearing of Farrington mocking his Ulster accent.
After work, Farrington joins his friends at various pubs, but only after he pawns his watch-chain for drinking money. Farrington’s account of his standing up to his boss earns him some respect. However, his revelries end in two humiliations: a perceived slight by an elegant young woman and defeat in an arm-wrestling contest. Farrington goes home in a foul mood to discover that his wife is out at chapel. He tells his youngest son, Tom, to make dinner but as Tom lets the fire in the kitchen go out, Farrington's rage explodes and he starts beating the little child with a walking stick. The story ends with Tom pleading for mercy.