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Lotophagi (a short story by Wynter Reed and Dean Newhouse1)
First draft written Oct 31, 1932. Final Draft finished June 26, 2006. Published 9:34 PM ET July 5th, 2006.

© 2006 Dean Newhouse. All rights reserved.

He was the strongest, hardest man I ever knew and yet, it often occurs to me that, other than materially, I never really knew him at all. We road together in a box car, and we were not far north of Mexico. I first noticed him when he transfixed a strong stare on me. Not matter how I tried, I couldn't avoid it. His deep, dark eyes penetrated my soul. They beckoned. For what, I don't know yet to this day. But I found it very disturbing.

At last he relented. Outwardly, there was nothing else about him that was unusual; he was not overly large, but obviously, just another hobo dressed in overalls, a work-shirt, worn out brogans and a dilapidated felt hat, which he pulled well down over his eyes as if to protect them from the light. He then sprawled himself out near the open door of the box car apparently asleep. His head was resting upon a small, leather satchel that contained, I presumed, an extra shirt or two and perhaps a pair of wash-pants. In this I was wrong for it contained something of a tremendously greater value than a few trifling articles of wearing apparel. But I am not concerned here with the satchel's contents and I only mention it because of how admirably it serves to illustrate the qualities possessed by this man. There were fully 35 or 40 men in the car besides myself, any one of whom, I believe, would have stolen the money from a blind beggar's cup if given the chance and yet this man lay calmly among them asleep, blissfully oblivious of the fact that his head was pillowed on a fortune. I made my way through the men toward the other end of the box car, to be farther away.

Once when the train brought up suddenly to a stop the man's head lolled to one side and the satchel slipped from beneath it. Still he slept on. And still, I kept my eyes on him. With a series of jerks, the train began to move again, gradually gathering speed. I noticed the glance of a big, bony Missouri farm boy, seated near the man, but with his legs dangling out the doorway. The farm boy's eyes fell upon the satchel. Being fastened only with a single strap across the top, it was partly open and he might have been able to see what it contained for his eyes widened a little and a strange gleam came into them as he crawled slowly to his knees and reached out his hand. He did it with extreme caution and considering the noise the wheels of the box car were making, I am certain, that no sound he could have made reached the ears of the sleeping man. Yet his fingers had barely closed upon the handle of the satchel when its owner turned half over and pulled his hat back from over his eyes. The farm boy leaped back wildly and tried to plunge through the doorway but he tripped over the man's outstretched leg and fell, the satchel flying out of his hands. With the swift, lithe movements of a cat the man he was trying to rob sprang after him and drove his knees into the hollow of the big fellow's back with such force that his face was smashed with a dull thud against the floor. Bellowing, the big farm boy forced his way back to his feet. Shaking his smaller opponent from his shoulders, he turned raging with blind anger to crash the man back against the board wall where he stood braced until his big, fumbling hands found the other man's throat.

Until this point in time, I had been no more than slightly interested in the outcome of the battle. Perhaps I was even a bit relieved the farm boy seemed to be on top of things. But then I saw the man's face going purple, the tightness of his thin lips relaxing and his one outstretched hand slowly opening and closing in an ecstasy of untold agony as if it were reaching out, striving futilely to grasp and retain his ebbing life. Or perhaps beckoning me! It suddenly occurred to me that the man was being murdered. Don't mistake me, I thought I cared very little whether either or both of these two men were killed but murder, that meant trouble. I had been in a little trouble in California. It conjured up unpleasant memories of prison walls and barred windows so I got to my feet and plunged through the crowd of yelling hoboes to the two men. I grabbed the farm boy by the shoulders and tore him loose from his victim. The other men then caught the spirit of the thing and laid hold of the farm boy's arms and hurled him, screaming, out through the open doorway of the box car. And then this man, who a moment before I could have sworn was almost dead, took a step forward and looked again at me, with eyes that burnt like live coals into mine, said coldly, “Where is my satchel?”

I felt like a dog that had failed in its duty; I felt as if I had neglected the one thing I had been set on earth to do. The man's words had that effect upon me. I turned and rushed toward the spot I had last seen the satchel, flinging men aside and even bowling them over in my frenzy. And then, I saw the satchel, had it in my hand and returned to this man with it like a faithful retriever, and truthfully I believe if I had had a tail I would have wagged it. I was so anxious to please. It was astounding. Me! I leapt to the beck and call of this other man. It was impossible. For years I had obeyed no command except sullenly and at the point of a weapon. Yet, this man?

The man then sprawled himself out in his original position near the open door of the box car. He again pulled his felt cap down over his eyes, rested his head on his satchel and apparently went back to sleep. I retreated back to the other end of the box car and nervously pondered the effect on me of these events. Meanwhile, all the other men quickly returned to normal, as if nothing had happened.

It wasn't until much later that I thought again of the Missouri farm boy. He had been a big, young fellow. A bit boney, but he was still a healthy looking fellow. Yet the crowd of hoboes had unceremoniously tossed him out of the moving box car, which by that time with the rest of the train had reached a high speed. No one gave him another glance or thought. There had been no outward concern at all for his outcome. Including me; until this point, I hadn't given him a thought. I then wondered; did he survive the fall? Or did he end up sprawled beside the tracks, his body broken and dying, possibly even dead? Was that murder? And if so, how much of the guilt was mine? The vision of the prison walls and barred windows suddenly came back to me. I've carried these nagging questions with me to this day.

And what became of the man? For the rest of our journey, he remained reposed in the same position. He never gave me another glance. After we reached our destination a day later, he disappeared from my life, and I never saw him again. I never did really know anything about him. Yet to me, I still feel this man was the strongest, hardest man I had ever known. Something about him -- his effect on me -- still disturbs me.

© 2006 Dean Newhouse. All rights reserved.



 Wynter's Short Stories...

It's The Bosses' Fault (published Jun 2006)

A Young Man Who Survived (published Jun 2006)

About Pigs, Shantyboats, and a Thick Waistline (published Aug 2005)

 Other Stories...

Wynter Newhouse Obituary (Feb 1993)

Newhouse Origins in America (January 2009)

Was Amiziah Reed a Scout for Gen. George Armstrong Custer? (July 2004)

Ruth Newhouse, Our Beloved Family Icon, Passes Away (June 2000)

Narrative of Carmen Cassani's Youth in Italy (April 1982)

Newhouse Cousin Great Contributor to Aviation Advances (1998)

Newhouse Ancestors Among First Pioneers in Ohio (1914)

Kobel Massacre (November 1755)

Ancestors Among Early Settlers in Palatine Migration to Tulpehocken, PA (1732)

The Great Corwin Burglary (March 6, 1683/1684)

Joseph Gatchell Punished for Heresy (July 1684)

Hannah Duston Escapes Indian Kidnapping (April 1697)

Jeremiah Gatchell Migrates to Pennsylvania (Abt 1704)

Machias Rebels Capture British schooner at Start of Revolutionary War (June 1775)

Elisha Gatchell, Justice of the Peace, Jailed Twice (1881)

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