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A Difficult Case
by [?]

“But he stayed so late!” she insisted from the safety of her real belief that he was not coming.

“He came very early, though,” said Ewbert, with a gentle sigh, in which her sympathetic penetration detected a retrospective exhaustion.

“I shall tell him you’re not well,” she went on: “I shall tell him you are lying down. You ought to be, now. You’re perfectly worn out with that long walk you took.” She rose, and beat up the sofa pillows with a menacing eye upon him.

“Oh, I’m very comfortable here,” he said from the depths of his easy-chair. “Hilbrook won’t come to-night. It’s past the time.”

She glanced at the clock with him, and then desisted. “If he does, I’m determined to excuse you somehow. You ought never to have gone near him, Clarence. You’ve brought it upon yourself.”

Ewbert could not deny this, though he did not feel himself so much to blame for it as she would have liked to make out in her pity of him. He owned that if he had never gone to see Hilbrook the old man would probably never have come near them, and that if he had not tried so much to interest him when he did come Hilbrook would not have stayed so long; and even in this contrite mind he would not allow that he ought not to have visited him and ought not to have welcomed him.


The minister had found his parishioner in the old Hilbrook homestead, which Josiah Hilbrook, while he lived, suffered Ransom Hilbrook to occupy, and when he died bequeathed to him, with a sufficient income for all his simple wants. They were cousins, and they had both gone out into the world about the same time: one had made a success of it, and remained; and the other had made a failure of it, and come back. They were both Rixonites, as the families of both had been in the generation before them. It could be supposed that Josiah Hilbrook, since he had given the money for a Rixonite church and the perpetual pay of a Rixonite minister in his native place, had died in the faith; and it might have been supposed that Ransom Hilbrook, from his constant attendance upon its services, was living in the same faith. What was certain was that the survivor lived alone in the family homestead on the slope of the stony hill overlooking the village. The house was gray with age, and it crouched low on the ground where it had been built a century before, and anchored fast by the great central chimney characteristic of the early New England farmhouse. Below it staggered the trees of an apple orchard belted in with a stone wall, and beside it sagged the sheds whose stretch united the gray old house to the gray old barn, and made it possible for Hilbrook to do his chores in rain or snow without leaving cover. There was a dooryard defined by a picket fence, and near the kitchen door was a well with a high pent roof, where there had once been a long sweep.

These simple features showed to the village on the opposite slope with a distinctness that made the place seem much lonelier than if it had been much more remote. It gained no cheerfulness from its proximity, and when the windows of the house lighted up with the pale gleam of the sunset, they imparted to the village a sense of dreary solitude which its own lamps could do nothing to relieve.

Ransom Hilbrook came and went among the villagers in the same sort of inaccessible contiguity. He did not shun passing the time of day with people he met; he was in and out at the grocer’s, the meat man’s, the baker’s, upon the ordinary domestic occasions; but he never darkened any other doors, except on his visits to the bank where he cashed the checks for his quarterly allowance. There had been a proposition to use him representatively in the ceremonies celebrating the acceptance of the various gifts of Josiah Hilbrook; but he had not lent himself to this, and upon experiment the authorities found that he was right in his guess that they could get along without him.