As Woodlouse stood looking at the bones, he was absorbed in philosophical meditation, and he could not help thinking that there was a sort of air of defiance in the grin, with which one of the skulls returned his gaze. It struck him that this skull might perhaps be thinking how peaceful it was to rest here in the sacred earth of the churchyard. But surely it was just as peaceful over there in the house in which the bones were placed; and if neither church nor provost, chaplain nor sexton, gravedigger nor organist, bell-ringer nor acolyte, no, not one of them had got his due, it was quite impossible that it should be otherwise. And when he came to consider further, he thought that he could discover in these bare bones and these bleached skulls, an expression he knew only too well in life; a kind of cleared-out expression, which seems to cling to those who have not paid their debts.
Meanwhile Pastor Martens’s sonorous voice echoed over the cemetery as he was approaching the end of his discourse. “The six feet of earth” was repeated again and again, like the refrain upon which a good composer will hang a whole symphony; and each time it seemed to make a deeper impression. The account in the evening papers might perhaps be slightly exaggerated, when it said that not an eye was dry; but certain is it that many wept, and not only women, but men also. Some even of the merchants, who had carried the coffin, were seen using their pocket-handkerchiefs.
It was really an extraordinary address. Just at the commencement it had caused an uneasy feeling, when Martens began to speak about the great riches of the deceased. There was some apprehension lest he should make some ill-timed application of the parable of the camel and the needle’s eye; but the speaker had just managed to say the right thing. There is nothing which gives the poor so much pleasure, as to hear how little power really belongs to earthly wealth, and how little there is to grudge when it comes to the last. And so this allusion to “the six feet of earth” had a good effect throughout.
When the funeral discourse was over, Abraham came forward with the box which was to hold the earth to be thrown on the coffin.
Struggling with his inmost feelings, the pastor seized the box, filled it with mould, and uncovered his head. Off in a moment came all the various hats, and just as many various heads were disclosed to view. Some were smooth, some were rough, some had long hair, and on others the hair was clipped as close as the top of a hair trunk, while here and there appeared a skull as smooth as a billiard ball.
The clergyman threw the earth into the grave, deeply moved, and almost mechanically, as if the task were too much for him. The loose mould could be heard rustling down on the flowers and silk ribbons. One more short and thrilling prayer was heard; the service was over, and the hats appeared again.