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      THE OLD GRAVESTONE

       

      IN a little provincial town,in the house of a man who owned his own home, the whole family was sitting together in a circle one evening,in the time of the year when people say the evenings are drawing in.The weather was still mild and warmth lamp was lighted;the long cur-tans hung down in front of the windows,by which stood many flowerpots;and outside there was the most beautiful moonshineBut they were not talking about thisThey were talking about the old great stone which lay below in the courtyard, close by the kitchen door, and on which the maids often laid the cleaned copper kitchen utensils that they might dry in the sun,and where the children were fond of playingIt was,in fact,an old gravestone.

      Yes,” said the master of the house, I believe the stone comes from the old convent church; for from the old convent church yonder,which was taken down,the pulpit,the memorial boards,and the gravestones were soldMy father bought several of the latter,and they were cut in two to be used as paving-stones;but that old stone was left over, and has been lying in the courtyard ever since.”

      One can very well see that it is a gravestone,”Boserved the eldest of the children;“we can still see on it an hourglass and a piece of an angel;but the inscription which stood below it is almost quite effaced, except that you may read the name of Preen,and a great S close be-hind it,and a little farther down the name of MarthaBut nothing more can be distinguished,and even that is only plain when it has been raining,or when we have washed the stone.” On my word,that must be the gravestone of Preen Sane and his wife!” These words were spoken by an old man;so old,that he might well have been the grandfather of all who were present in the room

      Yes,they were one of the last pairs that were buried in the old churchyard of the convent They were an honest old couple I can remember them from the days of my boyhood. Every one knew them,and every one Es-teemed them They were the oldest pair here in the townThe people declared that they had more than a tubfull of gold;and yet they went about very plainly dressed,in the coarsest stuffs, but always with splendidly clean linenThey were a fine old pair, Preen and Martha!When both of them sat on the bench at the top of the steep stone stairs in front of the house,with the old linden tree spreading its branches above them,and nodded at one in their kind gentle way,it seemed quite to do one goodThey were very kind to the poor; they fed them and clothed them; and there was judgment in their benevolance and true Christianity.”

      The old woman died first that day is still quite clear before my mind I was a little boy, and had accompanied my father over there,and we were just there when she fell asleepThe old man was very much moved,and wept like a childThe body lay in the room next to the one where we sat; and he spoke to my father and to a few neighbours who were there, and said how lonely it would be now in his house, and how good and faithful she his dead wife had been, how many years they had wandered together through life, and how it had come about that they came to know each other and to fall in love I was, as I have told you, a boy,and only stood by and listened to what the others said;but it filled me with quite a strange emotion to listen to the old man,and to watch how his cheeks gradually flushed red when he spoke of the days of their courtship, and told how beautiful she was, and how many little innocent pretexts he had invented to meet herAnd then he talked of the wedding-day,and his eyes gleamed; he seemed to talk himself back into that time of joy And yet she was lying in the next roomdeadan old woman; and he was an old man,speaking of the past days of hope!Yes,yes,thus it is!

      Then I was but a child,and now I am oldas old as Preen Sane was thenTime passes away,and all things change I can very well remember the day when she was buried,and how Preen Sane walked close behind the coffin A few years before, the couple had caused their gravestone to be prepared, and their names to be engraved on it, with the inscription, all but the date In the evening the stone was taken to the churchyard, and laid over the grave;and the year afterwards it was taken up,that old Preen might be laid to rest beside his wife

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      They did not leave behind them anything like the wealth people had attributed to themwhat there was went to families distantly related to themto people of whom,until then, one had known nothingThe old wooden house,with the seat at the top of the steps, beneath the lime tree,was taken down by the corporation;it was too old and rot-ten to be left standing Afterwards, when the same fate be fell the convent church,and the graveyard was leveled,Preen and Martha's tombstone was sold,like everything else, to any one who would buy it; and now it has so happened that this stone was not broken in pieces and used,but that it still lies below in the yard as a scouring-bench for the maids and a plaything for the children The high road now goes over the restingplace of old Preen and his wife No one thinks of them any more.

      And the old man who had told all this shook his head mournfully

      Forgotten!Everything will be forgotten!” he said

      And then they spoke in the room of other things; but the youngest child,a boy with great serious eyes,mounted up on a chair behind the windowcurtains, and looked out into the yard, where the moon was pouring its radiance over the old stonethe old stone that had always appeared to him so empty and flat,but which lay there now like a great leaf out of a book of chronicles. All that the boy had heard about old Preen and his wife seemed to be in the stone;and he gazed at it, and looked at the pure bright moon and up into the clear air, and it seemed as though the countenance of the Creator was beaming over the world

      Forgotten! Everything will be forgotten!” was repeated in the room

      But in that moment an invisible an invisible angel kissed the boy's forehead,and whispered to him

      Preserve the seedcorn that has been entrusted to theGuard it well till the time of ripeness!Through the, my child, the obliterated inscription on the old tombstone shall be chronicled in golden letters to future generations!The old pair shall wander again arm in arm through the streets,and smile, and sit with their fresh healthy faces under the lime tree on the bench by the steep stairs, and nod at rich and poor The seedcorn of this hour shall ripen in the course of time to a blooming poemThe beautiful and the good shall not be forgotten;it shall live on in legend and in song.”

       


       

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