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Sixpence

Sixpence
1
PROLOGUE
As a vicar of many years standing, I sometimes despair of the human race. Not
always, but there are times when I wonder just why we do to ourselves the things that
we do. As a species, we seem to enjoy inflicting pain and suffering on others. Not
always. Not always. I tried to remind myself that it had been a bad week, one of those
in any clergyman’s life when he begins to wonder if he shouldn’t take up something
less stressful. There had been several incidents which I would rather have forgotten,
or better still, rather not have had to deal with. Violence, attempted suicide,
drunkenness, petty theft, vandalism in the church porch which would now have to be
repainted, to mention only some of the events of the week. Occasionally, though
hardly often enough, I come across the other side of human nature, that side which is
much more common than many would have us believe, but which is very definitely a
human characteristic, as much so as the darker side of us. So it was on one mid
spring day, just at that time when everything is making an effort to came alive again
after the rigours of winter. Well, almost everything. One of the main events of this
particular day seemed to suggest quite the opposite.
It was a funeral, not my favourite work by any means. Somehow, it felt as
though it should be raining, a common feeling at almost any ceremony of a similar
type, but it wasn’t. Instead, the sun shone bright in a cloudless sky, bringing warmth
to a land starved of it during the recent winter months. Crocuses were already fading,
their place being taken by daffodils. A soft, balmy breeze stirred their yellow
trumpets, and moved the glossy green leaves already thrusting forth from tree
branches as though impatient to be seen.
The party of mourners by the graveside moved to one side, tactfully allowing a
woman, no longer so young, but not yet of full middle age to say her last goodbyes.
She was formally, yet lightly dressed, as befitted the weather. Her face was pale, with
dry cheeks now, for she had shed all the tears she would ever need for one she had
loved so well. Again and ever again, her hand went unselfconsciously to a simple
necklace she wore, fingers caressing the pendant at the end of its chain.
Watchers might have seen her lips moving. Careful listeners might have heard
the words she half whispered, but a strong sense of decency denied any obtrusion
into what had to be a very private moment. At length, she made her way to a cedar
wood bench with a small brass plaque on its back, one of several donated over the
years, and sank down on it, staring out at perhaps nothing, or perhaps something
which only she could see.
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