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Hugh's first inventive effort stirred the town of Bidwell deeply. When word of it ran
about, the men who had been listening to the talk of Judge Horace Hanby and
whose minds had turned toward the arrival of the new forward-pushing impulse in
American life thought they saw in Hugh the instrument of its coming to Bidwell.
From the day of his coming to live among them, there had been much curiosity in
the stores and houses regarding the tall, gaunt, slow-speaking stranger at
Pickleville. George Pike had told Birdie Spinks the druggist how Hugh worked all
day over books, and how he made drawings for parts of mysterious machines
and left them on his desk in the telegraph office. Birdie Spinks told others and the
tale grew. When Hugh walked alone in the streets during the evening and
thought no one took account of his presence, hundreds of pairs of curious eyes
followed him about.
A tradition in regard to the telegraph operator began to grow up. The tradition
made Hugh a gigantic figure, one who walked always on a plane above that on
which other men lived. In the imagination of his fellow citizens of the Ohio town,
he went about always thinking great thoughts, solving mysterious and intricate
problems that had to do with the new mechanical age Judge Hanby talked about
to the eager listeners in the drug-store. An alert, talkative people saw among
them one who could not talk and whose long face was habitually serious, and
could not think of him as having daily to face the same kind of minor problems as
The Bidwell young man who had come down to the Wheeling station with a
group of other young men, who had seen the evening train go away to the south,
who had met at the station one of the town girls and had, in order to escape the
others and be alone with her, taken her to the pump in George Pike's yard on the
pretense of wanting a drink, walked away with her into the darkness of the
summer evening with his mind fixed on Hugh. The young man's name was Ed
Hall and he was apprentice to Ben Peeler, the carpenter who had sent his son to
Cleveland to a technical school. He wanted to marry the girl he had met at the
station and did not see how he could manage it on his salary as a carpenter's
apprentice. When he looked back and saw Hugh standing on the station
platform, he took the arm he had put around the girl's waist quickly away and
began to talk. "I'll tell you what," he said earnestly, "if things don't pretty soon get
on the stir around here I'm going to get out. I'll go over by Gibsonburg and get a
job in the oil fields, that's what I'll do. I got to have more money." He sighed
heavily and looked over the girl's head into the darkness. "They say that
telegraph fellow back there at the station is up to something," he ventured. "It's all
the talk. Birdie Spinks says he is an inventor; says George Pike told him; says he
is working all the time on new inventions to do things by machinery; that his
passing off as a telegraph operator is only a bluff. Some think maybe he was
sent here to see about starting a factory to make one of his inventions, sent by
rich men maybe in Cleveland or some other place. Everybody says they'll bet
there'll be factories here in Bidwell before very long now. I wish I knew. I don't