422 THE OLD GRAVESTONE
time of joy. And yet she was lying in the next room— dead—an 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 old—as old as Preben Svane was then. Time passes away, and all things change. I can very well remember the day when she was buried, and how Preben Svane 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 Preben might be laid to rest beside his wife. They did not leave behind them anything like the wealth people had attributed to them : what there was went to families distantly related to them—to people of whom, until then, one had known nothing. The 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 rotten to be left standing. Afterwards, when the same fate befell the convent church, and the graveyard was levelled, Preben 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 resting-place of old Preben 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 window-curtains, and looked out into the yard, where the moon was pouring its radiance over the old stone—the 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 Preben 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