(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

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...

(The entire section is 561 words.)