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Poor White

Hugh McVey was twenty-three years old when he went to live in Bidwell. The
position of telegraph operator at the Wheeling station a mile north of town
became vacant and, through an accidental encounter with a former resident of a
neighboring town, he got the place.
The Missourian had been at work during the winter in a sawmill in the country
near a northern Indiana town. During the evenings he wandered on country
roads and in the town streets, but he did not talk to any one. As had happened to
him in other places, he had the reputation of being queer. His clothes were worn
threadbare and, although he had money in his pockets, he did not buy new ones.
In the evening when he went through the town streets and saw the smartly
dressed clerks standing before the stores, he looked at his own shabby person
and was ashamed to enter. In his boyhood Sarah Shepard had always attended
to the buying of his clothes, and he made up his mind that he would go to the
place in Michigan to which she and her husband had retired, and pay her a visit.
He wanted Sarah Shepard to buy him a new outfit of clothes, but wanted also to
talk with her.
Out of the three years of going from place to place and working with other men
as a laborer, Hugh had got no big impulse that he felt would mark the road his life
should take; but the study of mathematical problems, taken up to relieve his
loneliness and to cure his inclination to dreams, was beginning to have an effect
on his character. He thought that if he saw Sarah Shepard again he could talk to
her and through her get into the way of talking to others. In the sawmill where he
worked he answered the occasional remarks made to him by his fellow workers
in a slow, hesitating drawl, and his body was still awkward and his gait
shambling, but he did his work more quickly and accurately. In the presence of
his foster-mother and garbed in new clothes, he believed he could now talk to her
in a way that had been impossible during his youth. She would see the change in
his character and would be encouraged about him. They would get on to a new
basis and he would feel respect for himself in another.
Hugh went to the railroad station to make inquiry regarding the fare to the
Michigan town and there had the adventure that upset his plans. As he stood at
the window of the ticket office, the ticket seller, who was also the telegraph
operator, tried to engage him in conversation. When he had given the information
asked, he followed Hugh out of the building and into the darkness of a country
railroad station at night, and the two men stopped and stood together beside an
empty baggage truck. The ticket agent spoke of the loneliness of life in the town
and said he wished he could go back to his own place and be again with his own
people. "It may not be any better in my own town, but I know everybody there,"
he said. He was curious concerning Hugh as were all the people of the Indiana
town, and hoped to get him into talk in order that he might find out why he walked
alone at night, why he sometimes worked all evening over books and figures in
his room at the country hotel, and why he had so little to say to his fellows.
Hoping to fathom Hugh's silence he abused the town in which they both lived.