'DING-DONG! ding-dong!' It sounds up from the 'bell-deep'
in the Odense-Au. Every child in the old town of Odense, on
the island of Funen, knows the Au, which washes the gardens
round about the town, and flows on under the wooden bridges
from the dam to the water-mill. In the Au grow the yellow
water-lilies and brown feathery reeds; the dark velvety flag
grows there, high and thick; old and decayed willows, slanting
and tottering, hang far out over the stream beside the monk's
meadow and by the bleaching ground; but opposite there are
gardens upon gardens, each different from the rest, some with
pretty flowers and bowers like little dolls' pleasure grounds,
often displaying cabbage and other kitchen plants; and here
and there the gardens cannot be seen at all, for the great
elder trees that spread themselves out by the bank, and hang
far out over the streaming waters, which are deeper here and
there than an oar can fathom. Opposite the old nunnery is the
deepest place, which is called the 'bell-deep,' and there
dwells the old water spirit, the 'Au-mann.' This spirit sleeps
through the day while the sun shines down upon the water; but
in starry and moonlit nights he shows himself. He is very old.
Grandmother says that she has heard her own grandmother tell
of him; he is said to lead a solitary life, and to have nobody
with whom he can converse save the great old church Bell. Once
the Bell hung in the church tower; but now there is no trace
left of the tower or of the church, which was called St.
'Ding-dong! ding-dong!' sounded the Bell, when the tower
still stood there; and one evening, while the sun was setting,
and the Bell was swinging away bravely, it broke loose and
came flying down through the air, the brilliant metal shining
in the ruddy beam.
'Ding-dong! ding-dong! Now I'll retire to rest!' sang the
Bell, and flew down into the Odense-Au, where it is deepest;
and that is why the place is called the 'bell-deep.'
But the Bell got neither rest nor sleep. Down in the
Au-mann's haunt it sounds and rings, so that the tones
sometimes pierce upward through the waters; and many people
maintain that its strains forebode the death of some one; but
that is not true, for the Bell is only talking with the
Au-mann, who is now no longer alone.
And what is the Bell telling? It is old, very old, as we
have already observed; it was there long before grandmother's
grandmother was born; and yet it is but a child in comparison
with the Au-mann, who is quite an old quiet personage, an
oddity, with his hose of eel-skin, and his scaly Jacket with
the yellow lilies for buttons, and a wreath of reed in his
hair and seaweed in his beard; but he looks very pretty for
What the Bell tells? To repeat it all would require years
and days; for year by year it is telling the old stories,
sometimes short ones, sometimes long ones, according to its
whim; it tells of old times, of the dark hard times, thus:
'In the church of St. Alban, the monk had mounted up into
the tower. He was young and handsome, but thoughtful
exceedingly. He looked through the loophole out upon the
Odense-Au, when the bed of the water was yet broad, and the
monks' meadow was still a lake. He looked out over it, and
over the rampart, and over the nuns' hill opposite, where the
convent lay, and the light gleamed forth from the nun's cell.
He had known the nun right well, and he thought of her, and
his heart beat quicker as he thought. Ding-dong! ding-dong!'
Yes, this was the story the Bell told.
'Into the tower came also the dapper man-servant of the
bishop; and when I, the Bell, who am made of metal, rang hard
and loud, and swung to and fro, I might have beaten out his
brains. He sat down close under me, and played with two little
sticks as if they had been a stringed instrument; and he sang
to it. 'Now I may sing it out aloud, though at other times I
may not whisper it. I may sing of everything that is kept
concealed behind lock and bars. Yonder it is cold and wet. The
rats are eating her up alive! Nobody knows of it! Nobody hears
of it! Not even now, for the bell is ringing and singing its
loud Ding-dong, ding-dong!'
'There was a King in those days. They called him Canute.
He bowed himself before bishop and monk; but when he offended
the free peasants with heavy taxes and hard words, they seized
their weapons and put him to flight like a wild beast. He
sought shelter in the church, and shut gate and door behind
him. The violent band surrounded the church; I heard tell of
it. The crows, ravens and magpies started up in terror at the
yelling and shouting that sounded around. They flew into the
tower and out again, they looked down upon the throng below,
and they also looked into the windows of the church, and
screamed out aloud what they saw there. King Canute knelt
before the altar in prayer; his brothers Eric and Benedict
stood by him as a guard with drawn swords; but the King's
servant, the treacherous Blake, betrayed his master. The
throng in front of the church knew where they could hit the
King, and one of them flung a stone through a pane of glass,
and the King lay there dead! The cries and screams of the
savage horde and of the birds sounded through the air, and I
joined in it also; for I sang 'Ding-dong! ding-dong!'
'The church bell hangs high, and looks far around, and
sees the birds around it, and understands their language. The
wind roars in upon it through windows and loopholes; and the
wind knows everything, for he gets it from the air, which
encircles all things, and the church bell understands his
tongue, and rings it out into the world, 'Ding-dong!
'But it was too much for me to hear and to know; I was not
able any longer to ring it out. I became so tired, so heavy,
that the beam broke, and I flew out into the gleaming Au,
where the water is deepest, and where the Au-mann lives,
solitary and alone; and year by year I tell him what I have
heard and what I know. Ding-dong! ding-dong'
Thus it sounds complainingly out of the bell-deep in the
Odense-Au. That is what grandmother told us.
But the schoolmaster says that there was not any bell that
rung down there, for that it could not do so; and that no
Au-mann dwelt yonder, for there was no Au-mann at all! And
when all the other church bells are sounding sweetly, he says
that it is not really the bells that are sounding, but that it
is the air itself which sends forth the notes; and grandmother
said to us that the Bell itself said it was the air who told
it to him, consequently they are agreed on that point, and
this much is sure.
'Be cautious, cautious, and take good heed to thyself,'
they both say.
The air knows everything. It is around us, it is in us, it
talks of our thoughts and of our deeds, and it speaks longer
of them than does the Bell down in the depths of the Odense-Au
where the Au-mann dwells. It rings it out in the vault of
heaven, far, far out, forever and ever, till the heaven bells
sound 'Ding-dong! ding-dong!'