John Kane’s arrival in town coincides with unrest at a factory where workers are seeking to unionize. Local authorities wrongly suspect John to be an outside organizer for the union cause. The suspicions of the local Sheriff and Doc Thomas’ son, the District Attorney, grow after they search John’s room and find a passport filled with visa stamps from countries all over the world, including some that few Americans are allowed to travel to. They also find newspaper clippings in a variety of different languages. They consider that he might be a journalist or a government agent. Only Doc Thomas, who was the Kane family’s physician for many years, suspects that John is none of those things.
After the funeral of John’s sister, he admits to a young woman, Louisa, a teacher at the local elementary school, that his “work” is finished, and that he has a few days to “do nothing” before he must leave. She initiates a relationship with him, hoping that he will stay. This puts him at odds with a local man who has had his eyes on her since they were in high school.
During a conversation with Louisa in which he says he will not be returning to Hackley again, John mentions that one of his school friends, now a union organizer, will die soon. When that happens, word of his prediction finds its way to the Sheriff, who uses it as an excuse to arrest John.
During his subsequent questioning John tells them about some of his travels, but he never says exactly what his “work” is. Doc Thomas comes to visit him in jail, and they have a revealing though still somewhat couched conversation, which includes John telling Doc of all the horrors he has witnessed. John then walks out of jail and leaves town while the Sheriff and his men are preoccupied with the local labor unrest.
Throughout the film there are allusions to John’s true nature in a confrontation with the sheriff, his hesitant relationship with Louisa, his unexplained ability to travel extensively, his apparent facility with multiple languages, and his apparent aloofness.