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Poor White

The Woodburns of Columbus were wealthy by the standards of their day. They
lived in a large house and kept two carriages and four servants, but had no
children. Henderson Woodburn was small of stature, wore a gray beard, and was
neat and precise about his person. He was treasurer of the plow manufacturing
company and was also treasurer of the church he and his wife attended. In his
youth he had been called "Hen" Woodburn and had been bullied by larger boys,
and when he grew to be a man and after his persistent shrewdness and patience
had carried him into a position of some power in the business life of his native
city he in turn became something of a bully to the men beneath him. He thought
his wife Priscilla had come from a better family than his own and was a little
afraid of her. When they did not agree on any subject, she expressed her opinion
gently but firmly, while he blustered for a time and then gave in. After a
misunderstanding his wife put her arms about his neck and kissed the bald spot
on the top of his head. Then the subject was forgotten.
Life in the Woodburn house was lived without words. After the stir and bustle of
the farm, the silence of the house for a long time frightened Clara. Even when
she was alone in her own room she walked about on tiptoe. Henderson
Woodburn was absorbed in his work, and when he came home in the evening,
ate his dinner in silence and then worked again. He brought home account books
and papers from the office and spread them out on a table in the living room. His
wife Priscilla sat in a large chair under a lamp and knitted children's stockings.
They were, she told Clara, for the children of the poor. As a matter of fact the
stockings never left her house. In a large trunk in her room upstairs lay hundreds
of pairs knitted during the twenty-five years of her family life.
Clara was not very happy in the Woodburn household, but on the other hand,
was not very unhappy. She attended to her studies at the University passably
well and in the late afternoons took a walk with a girl classmate, attended a
matinee at the theater, or read a book. In the evening she sat with her aunt and
uncle until she could no longer bear the silence, and then went to her own room,
where she studied until it was time to go to bed. Now and then she went with the
two older people to a social affair at the church, of which Henderson Woodburn
was treasurer, or accompanied them to dinners at the homes of other well-to-do
and respectable business men. On several occasions young men, sons of the
people with whom the Woodburns dined, or students at the university, came in
the evening to call. On such an occasion Clara and the young man sat in the
parlor of the house and talked. After a time they grew silent and embarrassed in
each other's presence. From the next room Clara could hear the rustling of the
papers containing the columns of figures over which her uncle was at work. Her
aunt's knitting needles clicked loudly. The young man told a tale of some football
game, or if he had already gone out into the world, talked of his experiences as a
traveler selling the wares manufactured or merchandized by his father. Such
visits all began at the same hour, eight o'clock, and the young man left the house
promptly at ten. Clara grew to feel that she was being merchandized and that