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Last Updated on August 5, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 507

The story begins with the protagonist, Nick, getting up from the side of the road. We discover that he has a black eye as he has been double-crossed by a companion, who has punched him, with the result that he has fallen off the freight train he was riding. However, he is all right, and continues walking up the track.

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Nick, we are told, had ridden a freight train nearly to Mancelona and is now hiking along a track by a swamp. After aw hile, Nick comes upon a man sitting by a fire, whom he addresses.

He explains to the man what has happened to him, and the man says he has seen the brakeman who hit Nick, in very high spirits. He advises Nick that he needs to be tough, which Nick says he isn't.

Nick is slightly distressed by the appearance of the man, who is "misshapen" and has only one ear. The man notices Nick looking at him, and says "they all bust their hands on me," but asserts, "they couldn't hurt me." He tells Nick that his name is Ad and that he is "not quite right."

Nick laughs at Ad's assertion that he is crazy, but the man goes on, saying that he is Ad Francis and that Nick should know him. He insists that Nick feel his pulse, which beats only forty beats a minute. Ad Francis, it is later revealed, was a famed prizefighter.

Next, another man joins them, a black man whom Ad addresses as Bugs. Bugs, Ad says, is also crazy.

Ad begins cooking ham and eggs in his skillet, and the three men eat ham, eggs, and bread together. To Nick, who is very hungry, the food tastes delicious. However, when Ad asks for Nick's knife, Bugs advises Nick to hang onto it, which makes Ad angry. He demands to know why Nick has decided to "butt in" and eat other people's food. He tries to start a fight with Nick, demanding, "hit me."

Bugs intervenes, hitting Ad across the back of the head. He then gently splashes water on his friend's face and apologizes to Nick. He explains that he has to hit Ad "to change him when he gets that way," and that he has seen Ad like this many times before. He says Ad has been driven "simple" by too many beatings, and that the two of them met in jail. After they got out of jail, they both took to simply moving around the country, using Ad's money, which his former "manager" sends him.

Bugs and Nick talk for a while over coffee, and eventually Bugs suggests that Nick should move on, as he is going to wake Ad up. He offers Nick a sandwich and explains which way he should go to hit the town of Mancelona.

As he turns to leave, Nick hears Ad waking and the two talking. Although Nick had refused the offer of a sandwich, he finds that the sandwich is in his pocket all the same.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 561

Nick Adams has been riding the rails in Michigan. Essentially innocent and by his own admission not tough, he falls for the ploy of a railroad brakeman on the freight train on which he has hitched a ride. The brakeman spies Nick and tells him to come close because he has something for him. The something that the brakeman has for Nick is a hefty punch that catapults him off the moving train to the earth below. Nursing a black eye, Nick washes up in a nearby tamarack swamp, then makes his way along the roadbed toward Mancelona, some three or four miles distant. As he walks along the tracks he sees a small fire in the distance and heads toward it.

Nick approaches the fire cautiously, hidden by the night and by the beechwood forest in which he lurks. Seeing a man beside the fire, he approaches stealthily. When he gets closer, he greets the man, who looks up and asks him where he got his shiner. Nick then unfolds his story. The hobo has a badly mutilated face and has lost one ear. Nick stares at him so hard that he asks Nick whether he likes his face. Introducing himself as Ad—and later as Adolph Francis, a former lightweight champion of whom Nick has heard—he invites Nick to eat with him. He also announces that he is crazy and that he has a heart that beats only forty times a minute—which he insists on having Nick verify by taking his pulse as he counts to sixty.

Just as this ritual ends, a third man, Bugs, stumbles down the railroad embankment. Ad’s erstwhile friend, Bugs, is black. Ad insists that Bugs is crazy too, and Bugs does not deny it. After verifying that Nick neither is nor ever was crazy and that he comes from Chicago, Bugs begins cooking ham and eggs in a skillet. Ad asks to use Nick’s knife to cut the bread, but Bugs intervenes, warning Nick not to give his knife to Ad. Instead, Nick cuts six pieces of bread for the three of them.

After they eat, Ad becomes pensive and goes off into a world of his own. Bugs addresses him but elicits no response. Suddenly, Ad turns on Nick, demanding to know who the hell Nick thinks he is to come and eat his food and then get snotty when asked to lend his knife. Ad challenges Nick to a fight, which Nick tries to avert. Ad is determined, however, and is on the brink of punching Nick when Bugs approaches him from behind and knocks him out with a blackjack wrapped in cloth.

Bugs then explains that he looks after the punch-drunk former boxer, whose career ended when he and his female manager—to whom he bore a striking resemblance—got married, causing all sorts of speculation about incest. Ever since, Ad has lived the hobo life with Bugs nearby to save him from disaster. His former wife sends him money for his subsistence.

Bugs advises Nick that he can revive Ad whenever he wishes but that it would be best if he were not around when Ad regains consciousness. Giving Nick a sandwich to take with him, Bugs bids him farewell and revives Ad, giving him a cup of hot coffee to help him wake up.

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