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A Difficult Case
by [?]


It was in the fervor of their first married years that the Ewberts came to live in the little town of Hilbrook, shortly after Hilbrook University had been established there under the name of its founder, Josiah Hilbrook. The town itself had then just changed its name, in compliance with the conditions of his public benefactions, and in recognition of the honor he had done it in making it a seat of learning. Up to a certain day it had been called West Mallow, ever since it was set off from the original town of Mallow; but after a hundred and seventy years of this custom it began on that day to call itself Hilbrook, and thenceforward, with the curious American acquiescence in the accomplished fact, no one within or without its limits called it West Mallow again.

The memory of Josiah Hilbrook himself began to be lost in the name he had given the place; and except for the perfunctory mention of its founder in the ceremonies of Commencement Day, the university hardly remembered him as a man, but rather regarded him as a locality. He had, in fact, never been an important man in West Mallow, up to the time he had left it to seek his fortune in New York; and when he died, somewhat abruptly, and left his money, as it were, out of a clear sky, to his native place in the form of a university, a town hall, a soldiers’ monument, a drinking-fountain, and a public library, his fellow-townsmen, in making the due civic acknowledgment and acceptance of his gifts, recalled with effort the obscure family to which he belonged.

He had not tried to characterize the university by his peculiar religious faith, but he had given a church building, a parsonage, and a fund for the support of preaching among them at Hilbrook to the small body of believers to which his people adhered. This sect had a name by which it was officially known to itself; but, like the Shakers, the Quakers, the Moravians, it early received a nickname, which it passively adopted, and even among its own members the body was rarely spoken of or thought of except as the Rixonites.

Mrs. Ewbert fretted under the nickname, with an impatience perhaps the greater because she had merely married into the Rixonite church, and had accepted its doctrine because she loved her husband rather than because she had been convinced of its truth. From the first she complained that the Rixonites were cold; and if there was anything Emily Ewbert had always detested, it was coldness. No one, she once testified, need talk to her of their passive waiting for a sign, as a religious life; if there were not some strong, central belief, some rigorously formulated creed, some–

“Good old herb and root theology,” her husband interrupted.

“Yes!” she heedlessly acquiesced. “Unless there is something like that, all the waiting in the world won’t”–she cast about for some powerful image–“won’t keep the cold chills from running down my back when I think of my duty as a Christian.”

“Then don’t think of your duty as a Christian, my dear,” he pleaded, with the caressing languor which sometimes made her say, in reprobation of her own pleasure in it, that he was a Rixonite, if there ever was one. “Think of your duty as a woman, or even as a mortal.”

“I believe you’re thinking of making a sermon on that,” she retorted; and he gave a sad, consenting laugh, as if it were quite true, though in fact he never really preached a sermon on mere femininity or mere mortality. His sermons were all very good, however; and that was another thing that put her out of patience with his Rixonite parishioners–that they should sit there Sunday after Sunday, year in and year out, and listen to his beautiful sermons, which ought to melt their hearts and bring tears into their eyes, and not seem influenced by them any more than if they were so many dry chips.