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A Difficult Case
by [?]

He had not said it surlily, but sadly, and with a gentle deprecation of their insistence. While the several monuments that testified to his cousin’s wealth and munificence rose in the village beyond the brook, he continued in the old homestead without change, except that when his housekeeper died he began to do for himself the few things that the ailing and aged woman had done for him. How he did them was not known, for he invited no intimacy from his neighbors. But from the extent of his dealings with the grocer it was imagined that he lived mainly upon canned goods. The fish man paid him a weekly visit, and once a week he got from the meat man a piece of salt pork, which it was obvious to the meanest intelligence was for his Sunday baked beans. From his purchase of flour and baking powder it was reasonably inferred that he now and then made himself hot biscuit. Beyond these meagre facts everything was conjecture, in which the local curiosity played somewhat actively, but, for the most part, with a growing acquiescence in the general ignorance none felt authorized to dispel. There had been a time when some fulfilled a fancied duty to the solitary in trying to see him. But the visitors who found him out of doors were not asked within, and were obliged to dismiss themselves, after an interview across the pickets of the dooryard fence or from the trestles or inverted feed pails on which they were invited to seats in the barn or shed. Those who happened to find their host more ceremoniously at home were allowed to come in, but were received in rooms so comfortless from the drawn blinds or fireless hearths that they had not the spirits for the task of cheering him up which they had set themselves, and departed in greater depression than that they left him to.


Ewbert felt all the more impelled to his own first visit by the fame of these failures, but he was not hastened in it. He thought best to wait for some sign or leading from Hilbrook; but when none came, except the apparent attention with which Hilbrook listened to his preaching, and the sympathy which he believed he detected at times in the old eyes blinking upon him through his sermons, he felt urged to the visit which he had vainly delayed.

Hilbrook’s reception was wary and non-committal, but it was by no means so grudging as Ewbert had been led to expect. After some ceremonious moments in the cold parlor Hilbrook asked him into the warm kitchen, where apparently he passed most of his own time. There was something cooking in a pot on the stove, and a small room opened out of the kitchen, with a bed in it, which looked as if it were going to be made, as Ewbert handsomely maintained. There was an old dog stretched on the hearth behind the stove, who whimpered with rheumatic apprehension when his master went to put the lamp on the mantel above him.

In describing the incident to his wife Ewbert stopped at this point, and then passed on to say that after they got to talking Hilbrook seemed more and more gratified, and even glad, to see him.

“Everybody’s glad to see you, Clarence,” she broke out, with tender pride. “But why do you say, ‘After we got to talking’? Didn’t you go to talking at once?”

“Well, no,” he answered, with a vague smile; “we did a good deal of listening at first, both of us. I didn’t know just where to begin, after I got through my excuses for coming, and Mr. Hilbrook didn’t offer any opening. Don’t you think he’s a very handsome old man?”

“He has a pretty head, and his close-cut white hair gives it a neat effect, like a nice child’s. He has a refined face; such a straight nose and a delicate chin. Yes, he is certainly good-looking. But what”–