Poor White

by Sherwood Anderson

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Book Four: Chapter XIX

On the day after the feast managed by Tom and Jim, it was Tom who brought Hugh back to live with his wife. The older man had come to the farmhouse on the next morning bringing three women from town who were, as he explained to Clara, to clear away the mess left by the guests. The daughter had been deeply touched by what Hugh had done, and at the moment loved him deeply, but did not choose to let her father know how she felt. "I suppose you got him drunk, you and your friends," she said. "At any rate, he's not here."

Tom said nothing, but when Clara had told the story of Hugh's disappearance, drove quickly away. "He'll come to the shop," he thought and went there, leaving his horse tied to a post in front. At two o'clock his son-in-law came slowly over the Turner's Pike bridge and approached the shop. He was hatless and his clothes and hair were covered with dust, while in his eyes was the look of a hunted animal. Tom met him with a smile and asked no questions. "Come," he said, and taking Hugh by the arm led him to the buggy. As he untied the horse he stopped to light a cigar. "I'm going down to one of my lower farms. Clara thought you would like to go with me," he said blandly.

Tom drove to the McCoy house and stopped.

"You'd better clean up a little," he said without looking at Hugh. "You go in and shave and change your clothes. I'm going up-town. I got to go to a store."

Driving a short distance along the road, Tom stopped and shouted. "You might pack your grip and bring it along," he called. "You'll be needing your things. We won't be back here to-day."

The two men stayed together all that day, and in the evening Tom took Hugh to the farmhouse and stayed for the evening meal. "He was a little drunk," he explained to Clara. "Don't be hard on him. He was a little drunk."

For both Clara and Hugh that evening was the hardest of their lives. After the servants had gone, Clara sat under a lamp in the dining-room and pretended to read a book and in desperation Hugh also tried to read.

Again the time came to go upstairs to the bedroom, and again Clara led the way. She went to the door of the room from which Hugh had fled and opening it stepped aside. Then she put out her hand. "Good-night," she said, and going down a hallway went into another room and closed the door.

Hugh's experience with the school teacher was repeated on that second night in the farmhouse. He took off his shoes and prepared for bed. Then he crept out into the hallway and went softly to the door of Clara's room. Several times he made the journey along the carpeted hallway, and once his hand was on the knob of the door, but each time he lost heart and returned to his own room. Although he did not know it Clara, like Rose McCoy on that other occasion, expected him to come to her, and knelt on the floor just inside the door, waiting, hoping for, and fearing the coming of the man.

Unlike the school teacher, Clara wanted to help Hugh. Marriage had perhaps given her that impulse, but she did not follow it, and when at last Hugh, shaken and ashamed, gave up the struggle with himself, she arose and went to her bed where she threw herself down and wept, as Hugh had wept standing in the darkness of the fields on the night before.

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