IN the high-road which led through a wood stood a solitary
farm-house; the road, in fact, ran right through its yard. The
sun was shining and all the windows were open; within the
house people were very busy. In the yard, in an arbour formed
by lilac bushes in full bloom, stood an open coffin; thither
they had carried a dead man, who was to be buried that very
afternoon. Nobody shed a tear over him; his face was covered
over with a white cloth, under his head they had placed a
large thick book, the leaves of which consisted of folded
sheets of blotting-paper, and withered flowers lay between
them; it was the herbarium which he had gathered in various
places and was to be buried with him, according to his own
wish. Every one of the flowers in it was connected with some
chapter of his life.
'Who is the dead man?' we asked.
'The old student,' was the reply. 'They say that he was
once an energetic young man, that he studied the dead
languages, and sang and even composed many songs; then
something had happened to him, and in consequence of this he
gave himself up to drink, body and mind. When at last he had
ruined his health, they brought him into the country, where
someone paid for his board and residence. He was gentle as a
child as long as the sullen mood did not come over him; but
when it came he was fierce, became as strong as a giant, and
ran about in the wood like a chased deer. But when we
succeeded in bringing him home, and prevailed upon him to open
the book with the dried-up plants in it, he would sometimes
sit for a whole day looking at this or that plant, while
frequently the tears rolled over his cheeks. God knows what
was in his mind; but he requested us to put the book into his
coffin, and now he lies there. In a little while the lid will
be placed upon the coffin, and he will have sweet rest in the
The cloth which covered his face was lifted up; the dead
man's face expressed peace- a sunbeam fell upon it. A swallow
flew with the swiftness of an arrow into the arbour, turning
in its flight, and twittered over the dead man's head.
What a strange feeling it is- surely we all know it- to
look through old letters of our young days; a different life
rises up out of the past, as it were, with all its hopes and
sorrows. How many of the people with whom in those days we
used to be on intimate terms appear to us as if dead, and yet
they are still alive- only we have not thought of them for
such a long time, whom we imagined we should retain in our
memories for ever, and share every joy and sorrow with them.
The withered oak leaf in the book here recalled the
friend, the schoolfellow, who was to be his friend for life.
He fixed the leaf to the student's cap in the green wood, when
they vowed eternal friendship. Where does he dwell now? The
leaf is kept, but the friendship does no longer exist. Here is
a foreign hothouse plant, too tender for the gardens of the
North. It is almost as if its leaves still smelt sweet! She
gave it to him out of her own garden- a nobleman's daughter.
Here is a water-lily that he had plucked himself, and
watered with salt tears- a lily of sweet water. And here is a
nettle: what may its leaves tell us? What might he have
thought when he plucked and kept it? Here is a little snowdrop
out of the solitary wood; here is an evergreen from the
flower-pot at the tavern; and here is a simple blade of grass.
The lilac bends its fresh fragrant flowers over the dead
man's head; the swallow passes again- 'twit, twit;' now the
men come with hammer and nails, the lid is placed over the
dead man, while his head rests on the dumb book- so long
cherished, now closed for ever!