The afternoon had disappeared and the evening was under way when Harry Hughes shook himself free of meetings last Thursday and headed for a private home to see a group of legislators who had a favor to beg.

Over the summer, the governor had vetoed one of the Anne Arundel County legislators' pet bills. Now the delegates, unsure of their ability to override the veto, were asking Hughes to agree to a delay.

Hughes listened noncommittally to their request and sent word the following morning that he would go along with them.

Shortly thereafter, another measure -- the session's first test of strength for Hughes -- came to the House of Delegates for a vote. When it was over, most of the same Anne Arundel politicians Hughes had agreed to help hours before had voted against him and Hughes had lost by two votes.

"Now," said Hughes dryly during an interview a few hours later, "it's only human that you don't forget things." A wisp of a smile came to his face as he added, "But I'm not vindictive."

One year in office has done little to change Harry Hughes' humor or his understated approach to running Maryland's government. But, after a year of legislative sniping from those who scorn his style of governing, Hughes is showing a new willingness to do battle with his opponents -- but on his own terms.

He regards cooperation with the legislature as "a two-way street," and says he remains firmly committed to what he calls "leadership by consensus" and firmly opposed to strong-arming the legislature, trading jobs, votes and race-track passes to get his way.

In an 80-minute interview Friday, the man who was once thought to have no chance of sitting in the governor's chair said that he has found himself alternately satisfied, bemused, and irritated by the work of governing. h

The irritation, he said, comes from realizing how often the plethora of procedure in a bureaucracy becomes more important than the policies the state is trying to carry out.

The bemusement he said, comes from the constant clamouring for his attention. "This office is a focal point . . . for everything . . . The amount of mail and phone calls are incredible, covering every imaginable subject."

The satisfaction, he said, comes from knowing that however slow the process might be, the government reorganization he once envisioned is becoming a fact.

With his steady, unpretentious image of integrity, Hughes began last January with promises to restore pride in the scandal-scarred state and to preside over an effective and quiet administration. He ended his first legislative session last April with mixed reviews.Hughes was satistfied with a set of modest goals he had achieved but some legislators accused him of being inaccessible, indecisive and ineffectual.

While defending both his style and actions during his first year, Hughes now says, "Like anything else you begin, the first year is a shakedown. It's natural to come up with changes that need to be made."

The changes thus far -- including the hiring of the administration's first official lobbyist -- have been aimed at improving his rapport with lawmakers. His ultimate goal is passage of a much more ambitious legislative program than Hughes put forth last year.

His priorities:

Increasing state aid to education by a substantial amount, though less than the $60 million increase proposed by a state task force.

Finding a stable and continuing funding source for the state's road programs and its money-starved mass transit systems in Baltimore and the Washington suburbs. Among the options he is considering are setting aside a porttion of the state sales tax for transportation needs or increasing the tax on gasoline.

Establishing a statewide program for disposing of hazardous industrial wastes.

Building a 500-bed, medium security prison in the Jessup area at a cost of about $35 million and dedicating nearly $10 million to community adult rehabilition centers for minimum-risk prisoners.

Winning legislative approval of an interest-free, three-year $7.5 million state loan for the Peabody Institute, giving the well-respected but financially troubled Baltimore music conservatory a chance to rebuild its endowment.

Hughes, his white shirt sleeves rolled up, his rep tie slightly loosened, chatted Friday from behind his large desk as a fire crackled in his State House office. Occasionally pulling a cigarette out of a desk drawer, he spoke in measuered phrases about his policies and showed a grasp of detail and figures as he discussed issues ranging from transportation funding to music education.

When he looks at the past, Hughes allows himself a few words of self-congratulation. He frequently speaks of his efforts to cleanse the judicial appointments process of undue political influence, to bring more women and minorities into government and to win approval of pension reform and tax relief proposals.

But when he is asked to look ahead, Hughes said he would like people to remember him as "the man who changed the image of Maryland . . . improved the management of state government, who was successful in holding down government expenditures but with commpassion in providing the services."

Asked if his emphasis on the day-to-day routine fit the public perception of a politicial leader, Hughes said: "I think leadership comes from presenting the programs you feel are needed, but it can also come from the tone you set in performing that role."

Last year, many legislators who had grown accustomed to taking direction from the governor's second-floor office when Marvin Mandel was running the state reacted angrily when Hughes showed little inclination to express his views on a variety of legislation and legislative battles.

The bitter complaints about a lack of communication prompted Hughes to reorganize his staff to put a much heavier emphasis on legislative relations, including hiring a former legislator as full-time lobbyist to keep lawmakers informed of Hughes' views, push for his programs and count heads on crucial votes.

But, said Hughes, "the legislature is the policy-making body." Noting the growing assertiveness of Congress and state legislatures across the country, he said, "Regardless of how you cut it, the legislature has the last word. The last word shouldn't reside in the hand of one man, the governor."

To those who would call him the "me-too governor," as some did last year because of his reliance on the legislative leadership, or others who are already sniping at him on the House or Senate floor, Hughes has no retaliatory replies.

"Legislators have always taken shots at the governor. He goes on, smiles and tries to do his business," Hughes said, leaning back and placing one foot up on his desk.

Seemingly amused by the whole issue, Hughes said: "It's interesting because my experience with legislators since I've been governor has been very pleasant. They come up here and we chat and it's very pleasant. Then they go downstairs and, wham, I read about something they've said about me . . . But I'll just keep on being pleasant to them."

In the end, Hughes seems to regard the hoopla surrounding such political controversies as artifical -- the product of a myopic world where any fight attracts a crowd.

"There's one thing I find very consoling," he said. "I think the people of Maryland are happy about state government. That's what I pick up around the state. That's what people tell other people I know . . . That's what the polls show.

"You know, he said, "we in politics read all that stuff and get very excited about the moment. It's a difficult thing for a politician not to do -- and I'm a politician.

"But the next week, it's all forgotten.