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THE OLD GRAVESTONE

 

IN a little provincial townin the house of a man who owned his own home the whole family was sitting together in a circle one eveningin the time of the year when people say the evenings are drawing in.The weather was still mild and warmth lamp was lightedthe long cur-tans hung down in front of the windowsby which stood many flowerpotsand 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 sunand where the children were fond of playingIt wasin factan 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 yonderwhich was taken downthe pulpitthe memorial boardsand the gravestones were soldMy father bought several of the latterand they were cut in two to be used as paving-stonesbut 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 angelbut the inscription which stood below it is almost quite effaced except that you may read the name of Preenand a great S close be-hind itand a little farther down the name of MarthaBut nothing more can be distinguishedand even that is only plain when it has been rainingor when we have washed the stone.” On my wordthat must be the gravestone of Preen Sane and his wife!” These words were spoken by an old manso oldthat he might well have been the grandfather of all who were present in the room

Yesthey 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 themand every one Es-teemed them They were the oldest pair here in the townThe people declared that they had more than a tubfull of goldand yet they went about very plainly dressedin the coarsest stuffs but always with splendidly clean linenThey were a fine old pair Preen and MarthaWhen both of them sat on the bench at the top of the steep stone stairs in front of the housewith the old linden tree spreading its branches above themand nodded at one in their kind gentle wayit 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 thereand we were just there when she fell asleepThe old man was very much movedand 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 boyand only stood by and listened to what the others saidbut it filled me with quite a strange emotion to listen to the old manand 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-dayand 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 manspeaking of the past days of hopeYesyesthus it is

Then I was but a childand now I am oldas old as Preen Sane was thenTime passes awayand all things change I can very well remember the day when she was buriedand 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 graveand the year afterwards it was taken upthat 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 whomuntil then one had known nothingThe old wooden housewith the seat at the top of the steps beneath the lime treewas taken down by the corporationit was too old and rot-ten to be left standing Afterwards when the same fate be fell the convent churchand the graveyard was leveledPreen and Martha's tombstone was soldlike everything else to any one who would buy it and now it has so happened that this stone was not broken in pieces and usedbut 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

ForgottenEverything will be forgotten!” he said

And then they spoke in the room of other things but the youngest childa boy with great serious eyesmounted 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 flatbut 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 stoneand 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 foreheadand whispered to him

Preserve the seedcorn that has been entrusted to theGuard it well till the time of ripenessThrough the my child the obliterated inscription on the old tombstone shall be chronicled in golden letters to future generationsThe old pair shall wander again arm in arm through the streetsand 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 forgottenit shall live on in legend and in song.”

 


 

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