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A Church Mouse
by [?]

“I never heard of a woman’s bein’ saxton.”

“I dun’ know what difference that makes; I don’t see why they shouldn’t have women saxtons as well as men saxtons, for my part, nor nobody else neither. They’d keep dusted ‘nough sight cleaner. I’ve seen the dust layin’ on my pew thick enough to write my name in a good many times, an’ ain’t said nothin’ about it. An’ I ain’t goin’ to say nothin’ now again Joe Sowen, now he’s dead an’ gone. He did jest as well as most men do. Men git in a good many places where they don’t belong, an’ where they set as awkward as a cow on a hen-roost, jest because they push in ahead of women. I ain’t blamin’ ’em; I s’pose if I could push in I should, jest the same way. But there ain’t no reason that I can see, nor nobody else neither, why a woman shouldn’t be saxton.”

Hetty Fifield stood in the rowen hay-field before Caleb Gale. He was a deacon, the chairman of the selectmen, and the rich and influential man of the village. One looking at him would not have guessed it. There was nothing imposing about his lumbering figure in his calico shirt and baggy trousers. However, his large face, red and moist with perspiration, scanned the distant horizon with a stiff and reserved air; he did not look at Hetty.

“How’d you go to work to ring the bell?” said he.”It would have to be tolled, too, if anybody died.”

“I’d jest as lief ring that little meetin’-house bell as to stan’ out here and jingle a cow-bell,” said Hetty; “an’ as for tollin’, I’d jest as soon toll the bell for Methusaleh, if he was livin’ here!I’d laugh if I ain’t got strength ‘nough for that.”

“It takes a kind of a knack.”

“If I ain’t got as much knack as old Joe Sowen ever had, I’ll give up the ship.”

“You couldn’t tend the fires.”

“Couldn’t tend the fires – when I’ve cut an’ carried in all the wood I’ve burned for forty year!Couldn’t keep the fires a-goin’ in them two little wood-stoves!”

“It’s consider’ble work to sweep the meetin’-house.”

“I guess I’ve done ’bout as much work as to sweep that little meetin’-house, I ruther guess I have.”

“There’s one thing you ain’t thought of.”

“What’s that?”

“Where’d you live?All old Sowen got for bein’ saxton was twenty dollar a year, an’ we couldn’t pay a woman so much as that. You wouldn’t have enough to pay for your livin’ anywheres.”

“Where am I goin’ to live whether I’m saxton or not?”

Caleb Gale was silent.

There was a wind blowing, the rowen hay drifted round Hetty like a brown-green sea touched with ripples of blue and gold by the asters and golden-rod. She stood in the midst of it like a May-weed that had gathered a slender toughness through the long summer; her brown cotton gown clung about her like a wilting leaf, outlining her harsh little form. She was as sallow as a squaw, and she had pretty black eyes; they were bright, although she was old. She kept them fixed upon Caleb. Suddenly she raised herself upon her toes; the wind caught her dress and made it blow out; her eyes flashed.”I’ll tell you where I’m goin’ to live,” said she. “I’m goin’ to live in the meetin’-house. !”

Caleb looked at her. “Goin’ to live in the meetin’-house!”

“Yes, I be.”

“Live in the meetin’-house!”

“I’d like to know why not.”

“Why – you couldn’t – live in the meetin’-house. You’re crazy.”

Caleb flung out the rake which he was holding, and drew it in full of rowen. Hetty moved around in front of him, he raked imperturbably; she moved again right in the path of the rake, then he stopped.”There ain’t no sense in such talk.”