Shoving wet hair off his forehead in exasperation the young man watched the train disappear into the torrential rain. Too late! Maybe he could get a bus. Turning his steps that direction he soon found himself following an older girl and boy with a small girl riding on the young man's shoulders. They were speaking some strange language, he thought it might be Russian, and seemed to be having a lovely time under their little umbrella. He wished suddenly that he had someone to talk to under an umbrella. He didn't have an umbrella and he didn't have any friends, so he gave a dejected sigh as they reached the bus stop.
Apparently buses in Tucson didn't go all the way to a town as small as Wilcox, so a little while later he turned away in despair and agonized that he'd never be able to get away from his past. Eventually, his wanderings led him back to the train station.
"Are there any more trains headed to Wilcox today?" he asked the man who sat in the ticket booth eating a sandwich. His stomach rumbled and he ignored it.
"Nope," he responded, wiping his mouth. "Unless you count that freight train there. Beats me why you'd want to go to Wilcox! Big city Tucson for me all the time!" He turned back to his supper, looking quite pleased with himself.
Paul turned away in disgust and listlessly watched the aforementioned freight train pull into the station. Suddenly an idea sparked in his mind. Acting promptly, he creeped unnoticed to the back of the train and climbed onto the platform on the back of the caboose and hunkered down out of sight. He grinned to himself as the train pulled out of the station realizing the train had just been stopping briefly, which was exactly what he'd been hoping for. Now he had a free ride to Wilcox! Hopefully the crew would just stay inside and not notice him...
A sharp pain in his side woke him a few hours later and again a boot rammed into his side-accounting for the pain. He opened his eyes and pulled himself to a sitting position away from the boot. The wind was still rushing past his ears and it was dark but he could see the light of a lantern with a wrathful face behind it and hear the enraged words:
"WHAT are you doing on my train?!"
Paul tried in vain to make his mouth work. The giant of a man continued to glare. Finally he managed to croak out, "Is it your train?"
Infuriated, the man hung the lantern up, seized him by the collar and yanked him to his feet. Paul thought for one terrifying moment that he was going to fling him off the train, but instead he demanded, "Who else's train would it be, pray tell?! Definitely not yours, you hobo-who-thinks- he'll-catch-a-free-ride-on-someone else's-train!!" The veins in his neck were bulging and his face was purple with rage.
"I-I'm sorry, sir," Paul managed to stammer, still gasping for air.
"You'll be more than sorry in a moment!" the man yelled. Still holding him by the collar, he shoved him off the end of the train. "Roll!" he called jeeringly.
When the sun peeped up the next morning, the freight train sat in the station of Wilcox. By the time Paul hobbled into the little town, the train was gone, but he found his reputation had preceded him.
As he approached the first small house, a little boy looked at him curiously, then his eyes widening, he ran toward the house, shouting, "It's the hobo guy who jumped on the train! That the conductor was talkin' about this morning!"
His mother came out of the house and glared at Paul as he stopped uncertainly. "We are respectable citizens," she declared sternly, "I'll not have my children associating with the likes of you, so you'd better get along." With a swish of her skirt she turned, disappearing into her house with her little boy.
About a week later, Mr. Hartford, a well-liked farmer, received a visit from the self-proclaimed Wilcox gossip, old Mr. Gregory Stanton.
"Have you heard of the train hopper in town?" he questioned eagerly.
"Yes, yes, I have," Mr. Hartford replied mildly.
"Have you heard that he has been bunking with the Doc? Good thing too, I guess he was pretty beat up from gettin' thrown off a train-but serves him right!"
Mr. Hartford frowned but Mr. Gregory didn't notice.
"Now the hooligan's runnin' around tryin' to get a job. He'll be comin' to you next. Thought I should warn you so's you don't accidentally give him a job. Course," he got a disgusted look on his face, "Most likely Mr. Racken will give him a job even though he don't need another worker. That man is so soft-hearted!"
Mr. Hartford looked his neighbor in the eye and responded, "Mr. Racken is a man I respect very much. Do you mean that this whole town has united against a harmless young man who is obviously trying to get away from something or someone?"
"Well...." Mr. Gregory looked uncomfortable. "You won't give him a job, will you?" he added anxiously.
"I'll give him a job if he seems trustworthy. That's how I always test new workers."
Mr. Gregory left, sensing that the conversation was over.
Sure enough, that afternoon, Mrs. Hartford brought a young man out to where Mr. Hartford was working in the barn.
"I'm here to ask if you have any jobs I could do for you, sir," he began nervously when Mrs. Hartford left.
"Please sit down," Mr. Hartford waved to a hay bale and they sat down. He continued, "I do actually need a young man to help me out as mine left recently. If you are willing to work hard, you should understand I don't take men who will cheat for something or shirk their duties or try to get things without working. What do you say?"
Paul had been staring at his boots with color mounting slowing into his face. Now he looked up at Mr. Harford and replied earnestly,
"I understand, sir. You can count on me." Looking into his eyes, Mr. Hartford believed him.