The story opens with Mr. Ryder, a man of color, born free before the Civil war, the president of Blue Veins Society planning a society ball. Blue Veins is a club for people who are generally not white, however, ironically the majority of its members is mostly white in terms of their manners or appearance.
As he has done well for himself, Mr. Ryder has been pursued by many women throughout his life, but he has not considered marriage until a young woman by the name Molly Dixon made an appearance. It is in her honor and with the intention of proposing to her, that Mr. Ryder plans the next Blue Veins ball.
When he is preparing his speech, Mr. Ryder receives an unexpected visitor. Liza Jane, an older black woman, who travels from city to city in search for her husband Sam Taylor, whom she has not seen in 25 years, comes to ask for help. She tells Mr. Ryder that she, a slave back then, and Sam, a free born man, were married before the Civil War, but because his family wanted to sell him into slavery she helped him escape. Sam promised to come back for her, but Liza Jane was sold to a different family and he never returned. In response to Liza Jane’s story Mr. Ryder suggests that Sam could have remarried, as the slave marriages conducted before the Civil War were not considered binding, died, or have a number of other reasons for not seeking her out, or for not wanting her to seek him out. Liza Jane asserts that she is certain that her husband has remained faithful and that she will not stop looking for him. She leaves Mr. Ryder with a picture of Sam when he was young.
At the ball, when Mr. Ryder is supposed to give his speech, he recounts the story of Liza Jane to the guests. Afterwards he asks the audience whether they think that the man in the story should have acknowledged the woman he has outgrown as his wife. All Mr. Ryder’s guests including Molly Dixon agree that the man should acknowledge his wife, upon which he leaves. After a moment he returns with Liza Jane and introduces her as ‘the wife of his youth’.