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The Sexton's Cottage
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"I never saw one do it!"
"You saw me do it!--But I am still librarian in your house, for I never was dismissed, and never gave up the office. Now I am librarian here as well."
"But you have just told me you were sexton here!"
"So I am. It is much the same profession. Except you are a true sexton, books are but dead bodies to you, and a library nothing but a catacomb!"
"You bewilder me!"
"That's all right!"
A few moments he stood silent. The woman, moveless as a statue, stood silent also by the coffin-door.
"Upon occasion," said the sexton at length, "it is more convenient to put one's bird-self in front. Every one, as you ought to know, has a beast-self--and a bird-self, and a stupid fish-self, ay, and a creeping serpent-self too--which it takes a deal of crushing to kill! In truth he has also a tree-self and a crystal-self, and I don't know how many selves more--all to get into harmony. You can tell what sort a man is by his creature that comes oftenest to the front."
He turned to his wife, and I considered him more closely. He was above the ordinary height, and stood more erect than when last I saw him. His face was, like his wife's, very pale; its nose handsomely encased the beak that had retired within it; its lips were very thin, and even they had no colour, but their curves were beautiful, and about them quivered a shadowy smile that had humour in it as well as love and pity.
"We are in want of something to eat and drink, wife," he said; "we have come a long way!"
"You know, husband," she answered, "we can give only to him that asks."
She turned her unchanging face and radiant eyes upon mine.
"Please give me something to eat, Mrs. Raven," I said, "and something--what you will--to quench my thirst."
"Your thirst must be greater before you can have what will quench it," she replied; "but what I can give you, I will gladly."
She went to a cupboard in the wall, brought from it bread and wine, and set them on the table.
We sat down to the perfect meal; and as I ate, the bread and wine seemed to go deeper than the hunger and thirst. Anxiety and discomfort vanished; expectation took their place.
I grew very sleepy, and now first felt weary.
"I have earned neither food nor sleep, Mrs. Raven," I said, "but you have given me the one freely, and now I hope you will give me the other, for I sorely need it."
"Sleep is too fine a thing ever to be earned," said the sexton; "it must be given and accepted, for it is a necessity. But it would be perilous to use this house as a half-way hostelry--for the repose of a night, that is, merely."
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