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Hugh had no suspicion that Clara had him under consideration as a possible
husband. He knew nothing about her, but after she went away he began to think.
She was a woman and good to look upon and at once took Rose McCoy's place
in his mind. All unloved men and many who are loved play in a half subconscious
way with the figures of many women as women's minds play with the figures of
men, seeing them in many situations, vaguely caressing them, dreaming of
closer contacts. With Hugh the impulse toward women had started late, but it
was becoming every day more active. When he talked to Clara and while she
stayed in his presence, he was more embarrassed than he had ever been
before, because he was more conscious of her than he had ever been of any
other woman. In secret he was not the modest man he thought himself. The
success of his corn-cutting machine and his car-dumping apparatus and the
respect, amounting almost to worship, he sometimes saw in the eyes of the
people of the Ohio town had fed his vanity. It was a time when all America was
obsessed with one idea, and to the people of Bidwell nothing could be more
important, necessary and vital to progress than the things Hugh had done. He did
not walk and talk like the other people of the town, and his body was over-large
and loosely put together, but in secret he did not want to be different even in a
physical way. Now and then there came an opportunity for a test of physical
strength: an iron bar was to be lifted or a part of some heavy machine swung into
place in the shop. In such a test he had found he could lift almost twice the load
another could handle. Two men grunted and strained, trying to lift a heavy bar off
the floor and put it on a bench. He came along and did the job alone and without
apparent effort.
In his room at night or in the late afternoon or evening in the summer when he
walked on country roads, he sometimes felt keen hunger for recognition of his
merits from his fellows, and having no one to praise him, he praised himself.
When the Governor of the State spoke in praise of him before a crowd and when
he made Rose McCoy come away because it seemed immodest for him to stay
and hear such words, he found himself unable to sleep. After tossing in his bed
for two or three hours he got up and crept quietly out of the house. He was like a
man who, having an unmusical voice, sings to himself in a bath-room while the
water is making a loud, splashing noise. On that night Hugh wanted to be an
orator. As he stumbled in the darkness along Turner's Pike he imagined himself
Governor of a State addressing a multitude of people. A mile north of Pickleville a
dense thicket grew beside the road, and Hugh stopped and addressed the young
trees and bushes. In the darkness the mass of bushes looked not unlike a crowd
standing at attention, listening. The wind blew and played in the thick, dry growth
and there was a sound as of many voices whispering words of encouragement.
Hugh said many foolish things. Expressions he had heard from the lips of Steve
Hunter and Tom Butterworth came into his mind and were repeated by his lips.
He spoke of the swift growth that had come to the town of Bidwell as though it
were an unmixed blessing, the factories, the homes of happy, contented people,