A Crown of Life


FOR five centuries Frogstreet farmhouse was thatched, the kitchen floor was cold and damp and uneven with slate slabs, and there was nothing to do on winter nights except to sit round the open hearth, on which all the cooking was done, and which smoked — nothing to do except go to bed, if you were one of the children, and listen to Father’s voice mumbling through the floor, the whining of the new puppy shut up in the barn, cows belving for lost calves, the owls hooting in the trees, and the rain dripping from the thatch.

For five centuries the walls and the downstairs floors were damp and the rooms were dark. The yeomen Kiffts worked hard from before sunrise to after sunset during three of the four seasons; they possessed the lives of their sons, who were forced to work often beyond middle age, without pay, for their fathers; they shouted at and kicked their ferocious barking cattledogs as a matter of course; they thought nothing of beating, with their brassbuckled belts, their unmarried daughters if they stayed out late without permission; they went regularly to church on Sundays; and they died of rheumatism usually before the age of seventy. A small stream ran under part of the kitchen floor, giving the place its name of Frogstreet.

When Clibbit Kifft inherited the property, it already had a mortgage on it, raised by his father because wheat no longer paid, owing to the importation of foreign corn; and Clibbit was forced to raise the second mortgage to pay death duties. Then he married the young woman he had been walking out with ever since his mother had had her second stroke and died. Clibbit Kifft had hated his father, believing that the old man’s wickedness had killed his mother. Clibbit had loved his mother dearly.

Clibbit’s wife was a large woman, retaining through life the fresh red cheeks and brown wondering eyes which made her prettiness when Clibbit had been courting her. She had been sorry for Clibbit, knowing how, when a boy, his father had thrashed and starved him. His long swinging arms were said to be so loose because of the number of times his father had caught hold of him by the arm and swung him round before hurling him on to the kitchen floor. As a young girl, daughter of Vellacott farm, she had pitied the poor young man with the shy and awkward manner. After his mother’s death, when they were walking out together, he had never seemed to want to take her in his arms, but always to be clasped and held like a child. He was often querulous and moody for no reason that she could see, liable to leave her suddenly and not come near her again for days.

They walked out during the fall and winter, and when the warmer days came they went among the furze brakes on the combe side and she was tender to him, and during that spring he was almost happy, often making her laugh with the way he imitated and mocked his father’s ways; but when one night she told him they must be wed, Clibbit got into a real rage and shouted just like his father, before breaking into tears with the thought of what his father would do to him now that he would have to find a cottage and work for wages — saying that Father would n’t have no strange woman about the place.

Father told him to go and never show his face again; but the parson helped Clibbit, giving him two days’ work in the Rectory garden, — that made three shillings a week coming in, — and lent him seven shillings to buy a pig. The parson also gave him an old bed and a table with three legs which had been lying for years in the disused Rectory stables. Clibbit rented a cottage for fifteen pence a week, and the banns had been read in church,— none too soon, said the neighbors,— when Clibbit’s father died without making a will. Clibbit had been an only child, otherwise the farm would have been sold and lost to the family a generation before it actually passed into the hands of strangers.

When Clibbit’s fourth child was coming, Clibbit was past thirty, and growing just like his father in every way, said the neighbors; with one exception: the old man had been a limmer, drunk or sober, while Clibbit was sweet as a nut when drunk.

Clibbit’s wife, and his small children, lived in perpetual fear of him. She never knew what he would do next, or how he might appear. He might be home on time for his supper, the last meal of the day and eaten about six o’clock, or he might come an hour or two late, and find his plateful put back in the oven. He might eat it in silence; but he was just as likely to mutter that he did n’t want no supper, then take it out of the oven, give it a glance, and declare that it was ‘zamzawed’ (dried up), or not cooked enough, and tip it on the floor for the dog. Whatever he did, his wife would say little, but look at him and then at the silent children with apprehension. This look, and the unnatural stillness of the children, set him off in a proper rage; and as the time for her fourth confinement came nearer, so his moodiness and fits of violence increased.

One Sunday’s dinnertime he seized the tablecloth and pulled it off the table and sent all the things clattering on the floor. He kicked the loaf of bread through the window, where it was sniffed out by the sow and promptly eaten with grateful grunts. After that he neither ate nor spoke for three days, except to reply, once, to his wife’s faltered, 4 Won’t ’ee have your dinner, won’t ’ee, surenuff? Tes no use denying your stummick further,’ that he could n’t ‘afford to ait no more meals, what with all the mortgage money vor be paid next quarter day.’ On the fourth day of his fast he came home ’mazed drunk,’ said the neighbors, who behind window curtains watched him lurching down the street, followed by his Exmoor pony; and they listened at their thresholds for noises following the opening and banging-to of the farmhouse door. Clibbit had had only a half quartern of whiskey, and after eating his supper and saying it tasted ‘proper’ he slouched about the kitchen, smilingly patting his children’s heads, shaking his wife’s hand with beaming solemnity before taking off his boots and leggings, and going ‘ up over ’ — to sleep exhaustedly in his clothes.

So the years went by. One August his eldest son — who had just left school, being fourteen years of age — was sent to the inn for two bottles of beer. Returning with these, the boy jumped down into the field which they were reaping, and the two bottles, one held in each hand, clashed together and were broken. Unfastening the leather belt with the big brass buckle which had been his father’s and grandfather’s ‘girdle,’ Clibbit roared out a curse and ran after the boy, pursuing him across half the field, whirling belt in one hand and holding up his breeches with the other. He stopped only because his breeches were slipping down. The boy ran on, and when he disappeared over the sky line, nearly a mile away, he was still running. The village thought this a good tale, and it was laughed over many times during the next few months — the beer bottles ‘knacking together’ and young Kifft ‘rinning like a stag’ over the sky line. The boy never came back, finding a home and work with his uncle at Vellacott Farm.


Clibbit Kifft’s appearance was remarkable. Village boys called him Sparrow behind his back, but never to his side-whiskered face. They would sometimes dare to jeer when he had gone round the corner, riding his short moor pony. The intense wild blueness of his eyes under shaggy brows was instantly noticeable because of the long nose with its crimson tip. He was tall and very thin, a bony animation of long arms and legs in ragged clothes. His ancient cloth cap was so torn by brambles, as he knelt to till his gins and snares for rabbits, that only the lining and half the peak and shreds of cloth were left. Likewise jacket and breeches; and his leather gaiters were almost scratched away by his work.

Passing through the village on the way to one of his fields, riding the shaggy pony bareback so that his great nailed boots on the long legs almost knocked on the road, his sharpfeatured head glancing about him from side to side, he appeared to some onlookers to be gazing about him in search of further devilment. The rims of his blue eyes were always inflamed and his voice was perpetually hoarse. The Adam’s apple in his scrawny neck was almost as big as his nose. ‘Clibbit’s throat would cut easy,’ the hen dealer would remark at cottage doors after one of Clibbit’s domestic rages.

The thatch of Frogstreet farmhouse was so old and rotten that docks, nettles, and grass grew out of the clumps of green moss on it. Oat sprays grew every summer, too, near the base of the chimney stack. The green waving awns of June always pleased Clibbit. ‘Tes ol’-fashion like,’ he used to say to the Rector in his scrapy voice. ‘Tes wonnerful old, thaccy wuts up auver. ’T was me girt-girt-granfer, I reckon, laid thaccy wut reed up auver, ’cording to the records in the Bible box.’ Thatch was usually laid with wheat ‘reed,’ or unbruised wheaten stalks; oat or barley reed did not last so long as that of wheat. ‘Aiy, tes a wonnerful long time ago, when you come to think of it, y’r riv’rence. ’T was a master lot of smut that year, and the wheat crop was ruined, so they laid wut reed upalong. November, seventeen-seventy, George the Third’s reign, I reckon, zur. A long time ago. Aiy. Wull, us’v all got to go sometime, beggin’ y’r riv’rence’s pardon.’

Everyone in the village liked the parson.

Rain went right through the remains of seven thatchings — the thatch was relaid four or five times every century, and the oat berry which sprouted and started a colony beside the chimney stack of Frogstreet farmhouse must have lain dormant in the roof for more than a hundred and sixty years.

Starlings, sparrows, and swifts made their homes under the eaves of Frogstreet, and every year a pair of martins built a mud nest over the front door, which opened on the road. In summer the stone of the threshold was continually being splashed by the clotted wreckage of flies, as the parent birds cleaned out their nest. Just like Clibbit Kifft, said the neighbors, ‘to be heedless of they dirty birds biding there’; but let it be remembered, now that all the life of that farmhouse is passed away, that Clibbit once said to the parson that the martins were God A’mighty’s hens, which he liked to hear twittering there in the morning before he got out of bed.

When at last he was alone; when his three sons had run away, one after another, at school-leaving age; when his wife, whose cheeks were still fresh and eyes candid as a child’s despite her experience, had left Frogstreet finally, taking away the four smaller children; when the cows and horses and sheep and the last pig were gone; when the various inspectors of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, had paid their last visits; when for years no one in the village except the parson said a good word for the farmer, the martins were still there. It is unlikely that they were the original pair: so many long flights to Africa and back would have worn out those tiny hearts. Let it be thought that, although the old birds were long since dead, the impulse and desire to fly home to the English spring and the place of their birth was immortal. It lived on in the younger birds, and, when they too were fallen, in their nestlings.

The soft waking twitter-talk of house martins in their nests before daybreak is one of the sweetest and happiest sounds in the world; and, although Clibbit’s head was often poked out of the window just by their nest, the martins of Frogstreet farm never had the least fear of him.


‘Aiy, Clibbit let bide they dirty birds,’ a village voice declaims, but what about the long black pig Clibbit shot? ‘A raving bliddy madman was Clibbit,’declares the voice; ‘a proper heller, that should have been stringed up long ago.‘

Yes, Clibbit shot a pig, a long black pig it was, that had been reared on a bottle by his eldest daughter. A sow died of fever, and the surviving seven of the farrow of little black pigs were placed in a basket before the kitchen fire. One of the elderly female cats that lived about the place attempted to adopt them, with an obvious lack of success which amused Clibbit greatly. Six of the piglets were fobbed off on Ship, the gray bitch who drove the cows to and from milking; her litter of mongrel pups had recently been drowned. She took to them as gladly as they took to her, and the old cat derived pleasure from helping Ship wash them. The other piglet was bottle-fed on cow’s milk and afterwards grew to the habit of coming into the kitchen to see the eldest daughter, who had fed it, and also to rout for and crunch in its jaws charcoal in the hearth. Clibbit drove it out with kicks and blows, and the pig learned to be absent whenever it heard his voice or footfalls, but when, after listening and staring and snuffing, it thought he was not about, it would walk in and begin its eager search for charcoal. It so happened that one evening Mrs. Kifft ‘put back’ Clibbit’s supper on the hearth, and the animal had just finished a baked rabbit stuffed with sage and onions, a dozen potatoes, and a score or so of carrots, when Clibbit walked in. He swore and jerked his head about with rage, while the frightened animal bolted behind his wife’s skirts. ‘The withering limmer!’ roared Clibbit. ‘The flaming bliddy hog won’t ait no more zuppers nowhere, noomye! Why didden ’ee stap the bissley bigger aiting vor my zupper, you?’

‘I didden hear nor see nought!’ cried the wife.

‘You vexatious li’l loobey, you!’ screeched Clibbit, ‘d’ ye mean vor say you didden hear no flaming bones crackin’?’

‘I did hear something, surenuff, midear, now you do mention it, but I thought it was only th’ ole pig chimmering ’bout in they embers, I did.’ She looked at him, her eyes wide with fright, and the look as usual set him dancing and swinging his arms with rage, while he ground his teeth and hit his head with his fists. Then, seizing the gun from the nails driven into the lime-washed beam across the kitchen ceiling, he whirled it round his head, took aim first at his wife, then at the baby happily gnawing a carrot in the decrepit perambulator in the corner, and finally pulled the trigger when the barrel happened to be pointing at the head of the pig. When the policeman, hastily summoned from sleep and wearing his helmet, with his tunic imperfectly buttoned over his nightshirt, knocked at Frogstrcet door, entered, and asked sternly what’t was all ’bout, Clibbit replied that he knew of no law against killing a pig after sunset, and asked if he could sell him a nice li’I bit o’ fresh meat.

Shortly after the incident of the pig shooting, Clibbit was summoned for cruelty to a cat, ‘ in that he did cause it grievous bodily harm by compelling it to inhabit an improper place, to wit, a copper furnace of boiling water used in the process known as the washing of soiled domestic linen.’ Clibbit said he was sorry, and he looked it, and the chairman of magistrates, a prominent stag hunter, said he jolly well deserved to be pitched into boiling water himself just to see how he liked it. Fined two pounds or a month’s imprisonment.

While Clibbit, his small head jerking about like that of a dismayed turkey, was trying to say that he did n’t have the money, a voice at the back of the court said, ‘I should like to pay the fine on behalf of my friend, if he would permit me.’ It was the village parson.

A woman cried out that such brutes should not be given the option of a fine, but should be flogged, and then be shut away in solitary confinement.

‘Order!’ cried a voice, while the clerk prepared to read the next charge. Clibbit went out of the court, wondering what he should say to his reverence; but the parson was gone. He saw the woman who had cried out; she was waiting for him among a group of friends with blank faces; and she said, ‘We’re going to watch you, let me tell you, and you won’t get off so easily next time with your revolting cruelty. We know all about you, so you need n’t think we don’t! ’ He did not know what to say, but stood there blinking awhile, smelling of moth ball, and jerking his head about, unable to look at any face; then, touching his 1884 bowler hat, — for he wore his best clothes, which also had been his father’s best clothes, — he muttered, ‘Yes, ma’m,’ and shambled away to where his pony was tied up. He would have liked a drop of whiskey, but did n’t like to go into any of the pubs lest he be recognized.

So he went home, and ploughed the three-acre field called Butts Park until it was dark, having had no food that day. The kitchen was dark, the family in bed. He lit a candle and took down the gun from the beam. He sat down in a chair, the gun across his knees, and tried to cry, but he could n’t. The poignant mood passed, and he put the gun back, thinking that he would sell the calf next market day and pay back parson.

Clibbit did not sell the calf, nor did he pay back the two pounds fine. He avoided the parson, or rather he avoided the awkward feelings of gratitude and obligation, almost resentment, within himself by keeping out of the Rector’s way. He was in debt already, for he could not work the farm singlehanded, and the fields were poor, the crops taken out of them not having been ‘put back’ in the form of artificial and stable manure. Farmers at that time were exempt from paying rates and taxes on their land and farm buildings; but, in spite of this, many small farmers were being sold up, noticeably those who spent many hours every day in the inns.


At last Mrs. Kifft made up her mind for good and all, she told the neighbors; her brother at Vellacott had lost his poor wife, and was agreeable to have her live there with the children. All the neighbors watched the departure. Clibbit, after a couple of calls at the inn, helped load the boxes and perambulator on the long-tailed cart.

‘What, be goin’ vor leave your old feyther?’ he squeaked to the baby, also called Clibbit, as Mrs. Kifft turned to give a last sorrowing look at the room, and the broad bed, with its wire mattress like a chain harrow, where her children had been born. Clibbit bent down and wriggled a scarred forefinger at the blue-eyed baby. He saw the tears in his wife’s eyes, and spoke loudly to the baby. The baby smiled at Clibbit. ‘Proper, proper!’ said Clibbit. ‘Be goin’ vor leave your daddy, hey? Aw, I han’t chiding ’ee, midear!’ he said in a serious voice, gazing at the infant, whose eyes were suddenly round. ‘Tes proper, tes right, vor you to go away. I ban’t no gude. You go away, li’l Clibbit, and don’t trouble nought about I. Go along, missus, your carriage be waiting, midear.’ Blinking the tears from her eyes, the woman went downstairs with the baby, and out of the house, and Clibbit was left alone with his pony, his dog, a pig, and two cows.

That night he spent in the inn, smiling and nodding his head and praising his wife in a voice that after four glasses of whiskey became soft under its perpetual roughness. The neighbors remained silent. Clibbit told them what a beautiful animal was Ship, the gray long-haired sheep dog that followed him everywhere. ‘A master dog, aiy! ’ Ship’s head was patted; her tail trembled with gratitude on the stone floor. They said nothing to that, thinking that in the morning the dog’s ribs were likely to be broken by one of the farmer’s boots. Ship had long ceased to howl when kicked or beaten by her master. Her eyes flinched white, she crouched from the blow, her eyes closed, and a sort of subdued whimper came from her throat. She never growled nor snarled at Clibbit. Nor did she growl at anything; she seemed to have none of the ordinary canine prejudices or rivalries. Ship was old then. She was a gray shadow slipping in and out of the farmyard doors with Clibbit, or lying in the lane outside, waiting to fetch the cows for milking and returning behind them afterwards. Strangers visiting the village in summer, and pausing to pat the old dog, were likely to wonder why there were so many bumps on her ribs; explanation of the broken ribs was always readily forthcoming from the neighbors.

That evening Clibbit was drunk, but not so happy that he could not find his way down the lane to Frogstreet. He sang in the kitchen, and danced a sort of jig on the slate floor; the first time he had danced and sung since his courting days. In the morning he awoke and got up before daybreak, lit the fire, boiled himself a cup of tea, and ate some bread, cheese, and onions. He milked and fed the two cows himself, watered and fed the pony, gave the pig its barley meal. Afterwards he and Ship followed behind the cows to the rough pasture in the marshy field called Lovering’s Mash; all day he ploughed with a borrowed pair of horses, and towards dusk of the wintry day he and Ship brought the cows back to be milked and stalled for the night.

After more bread and cheese, he went up to the inn, drank some whiskey, and then smiles broke out of his angular, tufted face and to the neighbors he began to praise wife, li’l ol’ pony, dog, and parson. When he had gone home, the neighbors said he was a hypocrite.

Clibbit’s lonely farming became the joke of the village. He was seen pouring away pails of sour milk into the stream which ran under Frogstreet and through the garden. He tried to get a woman to look after the dairy, but no one would offer. A letter written by an anonymous neighbor brought the Sanitary Inspector to Frogstreet; one of the cows was found to be tubercular, and ordered to be destroyed. Clibbit sold the other cow to a butcher. He sold his sow to the same butcher a month later. His fields were overgrown with docks, thistles, and sheep’s sorrel. A plough stood in one field halfway down a furrow, its rusty share being bound by stroil grass whose roots it had been cutting when the neighbor had come up and taken away the pair of horses. This neighbor, a hardworking Chapel worshiper, intended to buy Frogstreet farm when it came into the market, as inevitably it must. He was the writer of the anonymous letter to the Sanitary Inspector, and saw to it that everyone knew the property was worth very little; meanwhile he waited to buy it. Clibbit still worked at his traps, always accompanied by old Ship, getting a few shillings a week for rabbits. The neighbors said he did n’t eat enough to keep the flesh on a rat.

The pony, already blind from cataract in one eye, and more than twenty years old, developed fever in the feet, and hoping to cure it, for he was fond of it, Clibbit turned it out into Lovering’s Mash. It was seen limping about, an inspector came out from town, and Clibbit was summoned to the Court of Summary Jurisdiction.

The stag-hunting chairman of the bench of magistrates, after hearing the evidence of the prosecution, and listening without apparent interest to Clibbit’s stammered statement, remarked that he had seen the defendant before him on another occasion. The clerk recalled that occasion. H’m, yes. For the callous neglect of the horse, which with the dog was man’s best friend, — a most un-British line of conduct, he would remark, — defendant would be sent to prison for seven days without the option of a fine, and the pony to be destroyed by Order of the Court. A woman cried, ‘Bravo, English justice!’ in a shrill triumphant voice; she was immediately turned out of court. The clerk read the next charge, against a terrified and obese individual who had been summoned for riding a bicycle at night without sufficient illumination within the meaning of the Act, — to wit, a lamp, — who said he had forgotten to light the wick in his haste lest he be late for choir practice. He led the basses, he explained, nervously twisting his hat. Laughter. Clibbit, following a constable through a door, thought the laughter was against him. He had not eaten for three days.

That night Ship broke out of the barn, wherein she had been locked, by biting and scratching a way under the rotten doors, and in the morning she was found sitting, whining almost inaudibly, outside the prison gates. The sergeant of police on duty, recognizing her, said he would report the stray for destruction, but a young constable, to whom as a small boy Clibbit had once given an apple, said he would look after it until the old chap came out.

When Clibbit came out, his hair cut and his nose not so red, Ship ran round and round him in circles, uttering hysterical noises and trembling violently. Clibbit patted Ship absentmindedly, as though he did not realize why he or the dog was there, and then set out to walk home.

Next day he was seen about his incult fields, followed by Ship, and mooning about, sometimes stooping to pull a weed — a man with nothing to do.

It was a mild winter, and the frosts had not yet withered the watercress beside the stream running through the small orchard of Frogstreet.

Three weeks before Christmas, Clibbit picked a bunch of watercress and took it to Vellacott farm. ‘For the baby,’he said. His brother-in-law told him to take himself off. ‘The less us sees of ’ee, the better us’ll be plaised,’ he said. Clibbit went away immediately. His body was found the next day lying in Lovering’s Mash, gun beside him, and Ship wet and whimpering. Watercress was found in his pocket. The coroner’s court found a verdict of felo-de-se, after much discussion among the jury whether it should be ‘suicide while of unsound mind ’ for the sake of the family.

The neighbors were now sorry for Clibbit, recalling that he had been a ‘wonnerful generous chap’ sometimes, especially when drunk.


A fortnight before Christmas the ringers began their practice, and the pealing changes of the Treble Hunt fell clanging out of the square Norman tower. It was freezing; smoke rose straight from chimneys. The first to come down the stone steps of the tower and out of the western door, carrying a lantern, were the ‘colts,’ or youths still learning to ring; they saw something flitting gray between the elms which bordered the churchyard and the unconsecrated ground beyond. The colts gave a glance into the darkness; then they hurried down the path, laughing when they were outside the churchyard. But they did not linger there.

Others saw the shadow; the constable, followed and reassured by several men, went among the tombstones, cautiously, flashing an electric torch on a heap of earth, still showing shovel marks, without flower or cross: grave of the suicide.

Frogstreet was dark and still, save for the everlasting murmur of flowing water; people hurried past it; and at midnight, when stars glittering were the only light in the valley, the grayness flitted across the yard and stopped, lifting up its head, and a long mournful cry rose into the night.

Towards dawn the cry rose again, as though from the base of the elms; and when daylight came the mound of earth was white with rime, and the long withered grasses were white also, except in one place beside the mound where they were pressed down, and green.

The church choir, grouped forms and shadows and a bright new petrol-vapor lamp, went round the village, singing carols. Snow was falling when they walked laughing by the door and blank windows of Frogstreet, on the walls of which their shadows slanted and swerved. The girls laughed shrilly; Christmas was coming and life seemed full and good. Above the wall of the churchyard, raised high by the nameless dead of olden time, two red points glowed steadily. A girl ceased laughing, and put hand to mouth to stop a cry. In the light of the upheld lamp the red points shifted and changed to a soft lambency, and they saw the face of Ship looking down at them. ‘Oh, poor thing!’ said the girl. She was kitchen maid at the Rectory. The cook told the Rector.

The Rector was an old man with a white beard, a soft and clear voice, and eyes that had been very sad when he was young, but now were serene and sure. He had no enemies; he was the friend of all.

Late that night he went to the ground left unconsecrated by ecclesiastical law westwards of the elms and stood by the mound, listening to the sounds of the stream and feeling himself one with the trees and the grass and the life of the earth. This was his prayer; and while he prayed, so still within himself, he felt something warm gently touch his hand, and there, in silence, stood Ship beside him.

The dog followed him to the Rectory, and, touching the man’s hand with its nose, returned to its vigil.

Every morning the Rector arose with the sun and went into the churchyard and found Ship waiting for him, and his gift of a biscuit carried in his pocket. Then he entered the church and knelt before the altar, and was still within himself for the cure of souls.

On Christmas Eve the yews in the churchyard were black and motionless as dead Time. The ringers going up the path to the western door saw between the elms a glint and shuffle of light — the rays of their lantern in the icicles hanging from the coat of the dog.

And on Christmas morning the people went into the church while the sun was yet unrisen behind their fields, and knelt in their pews and were still within themselves while the Rector’s words and the spoken responses were outside the pure aloneness of each one.

With subdued quietness a few began to move down the aisle towards the chancel to kneel by the altar rail behind which the priest waited to minister to them. He moved towards them with the silver paten of bread fragments.

‘Take and eat this in remembrance . . .’ he was saying, when those remaining in the pews began to notice a small chiming and clinking in the air about them, and, as they looked up in wonderment, the movement of other heads drew sight to the figure of the old gray sheep dog walking up the aisle. With consternation they watched it moving slowly towards the light beginning to shine in the stained glass of the tall eastern windows above the altar. They watched it pause before the chancel step, as it stood, slightly swaying as though summoning its last strength to raise one foot, and a second foot, and again one more foot, and then the last foot, and limp to the row of kneeling people beyond which the Rector moved, murmuring the words spoken in olden time by the Friendless One who saw all life with clarity.

The verger hurried on tiptoe across the chancel, but at the look in the Rector’s eyes, and the slow movement of his head, he hesitated, then returned down the aisle again.

The dog’s paw was raised to the rail as it sat there, with dim eyes, waiting; and at every labored breath the icicles on its coat made their small striking noises.

When the last kneeling figure had returned to the pews, with the carved symbols of Crucifixion mutilated in Cromwell’s time for religion’s sake, the Rector bent down beside the dog. They saw him take something from his pocket, and hold it out to the dog; then they saw his expression change to one of concern as he knelt down to stroke the shaggy head which had slowly leaned sideways as sight unfocused from the dying eyes. They heard the voice saying, slowly and clearly, ‘Be thou faithful unto death; and I will give thee a crown of life,’ and to their eyes came tears, with a strange gladness within their hearts. The sun shone through the eastern windows, where Christ the Sower was radiant.