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Poor White

CHAPTER XX
It was a hot, dusty day, a week after Hugh's marriage to Clara, and Hugh was at
work in his shop at Bidwell. How many days, weeks, and months he had already
worked there, thinking in iron--twisted, turned, tortured to follow the twistings and
turnings of his mind--standing all day by a bench beside other workmen--before
him always the little piles of wheels, strips of unworked iron and steel, blocks of
wood, the paraphernalia of the inventor's trade. Beside him, now that money had
come to him, more and more workmen, men who had invented nothing, who
were without distinction in the life of the community, who had married no rich
man's daughter.
In the morning the other workmen, skillful fellows, who knew as Hugh had never
known, the science of their iron craft, came straggling through the shop door into
his presence. They were a little embarrassed before him. The greatness of his
name rang in their minds.
Many of the workmen were husbands, fathers of families. In the morning they left
their houses gladly but nevertheless came somewhat reluctantly to the shop. As
they came along the street, past other houses, they smoked a morning pipe.
Groups were formed. Many legs straggled along the street. At the door of the
shop each man stopped. There was a sharp tapping sound. Pipe bowls were
knocked out against the door sill. Before he came into the shop, each man
looked out across the open country that stretched away to the north.
For a week Hugh had been married to a woman who had not yet become his
wife. She belonged, still belonged, to a world he had thought of as outside the
possibilities of his life. Was she not young, strong, straight of body? Did she not
array herself in what seemed unbelievably beautiful clothes? The clothes she
wore were a symbol of herself. For him she was unattainable.
And yet she had consented to become his wife, had stood with him before a man
who had said words about honor and obedience.
Then there had come the two terrible evenings--when he had gone back to the
farmhouse with her to find the wedding feast set in their honor, and that other
evening when old Tom had brought him to the farmhouse a defeated, frightened
man who hoped the woman would put out her hand, would reassure him.
Hugh was sure he had missed the great opportunity of his life. He had married,
but his marriage was not a marriage. He had got himself into a position from
which there was no possibility of escaping. "I'm a coward," he thought, looking at
the other workmen in the shop. They, like himself, were married men and lived in
a house with a woman. At night they went boldly into the presence of the woman.
He had not done that when the opportunity offered, and Clara could not come to
him. He could understand that. His hands had builded a wall and the passing
days were huge stones put on top of the wall. What he had not done became
every day a more and more impossible thing to do.
Tom, having taken Hugh back to Clara, was still concerned over the outcome of
their adventure. Every day he came to the shop and in the evening came to see
them at the farmhouse. He hovered about, was like a mother bird whose
 
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