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The Old Tombstone

In a small provincial town lived a man who owned his own house. There one evening he and his whole family were gathered together. It was the time of year when people say, "The evenings are growing longer," and it was still pleasant and warm; the lamp was lit, long curtains hung down before the windows-by which stood several flowerpots-and bright moonlight flooded the world outside.

But they were not talking about the moonlight; they were discussing a huge old stone that lay out in the yard, near the kitchen door, where the servants often placed their copper utensils, when they had been washed, to dry in the sun, and where the children usually played. As a matter of fact, it was an old tombstone.

"I believe," explained the master of the house, "that it came from the old ruined chapel of the convent. Pulpit and tombstones, with their epitaphs, were sold, and my departed father bought several of them. We broke up the others into paving stones, but we didn't use that one and left it lying in the yard."

"You can easily tell that it was a tombstone," said the eldest of the children. "You can still see an hourglass on it, and a piece of an angel, but the inscription is just about gone. You can make out the name 'Preben' and a capital 'S' just after it, and 'Martha' a little further down, but it is impossible to read any more. And you can see that only after it has been raining or we have washed the stone."

Now a very old man, who from his age might have been the grandfather of everybody in the room, spoke up. "Why, that must be the tombstone of Preben Svane and his wife," he said. "Yes, of course, that grand old couple were almost the last to be buried in the churchyard of the old convent. In my childhood days I knew them as an honorable old couple. Everybody knew them and loved them; they were like a king and queen in this town. People said they had more than a barrelful of money, and yet they always dressed simply, in very coarse cloth-but their linen was always snowy white.

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