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Fabulous Fairy Tales for children and adults. From our vast collection of old traditional fairy tales and fables.

The Bell

IN the narrow streets of a large town people often heard
in the evening, when the sun was setting, and his last rays
gave a golden tint to the chimney-pots, a strange noise which
resembled the sound of a church bell; it only lasted an
instant, for it was lost in the continual roar of traffic and
hum of voices which rose from the town. 'The evening bell is
ringing,' people used to say; 'the sun is setting!' Those who
walked outside the town, where the houses were less crowded
and interspersed by gardens and little fields, saw the evening
sky much better, and heard the sound of the bell much more
clearly. It seemed as though the sound came from a church,
deep in the calm, fragrant wood, and thither people looked
with devout feelings.

A considerable time elapsed: one said to the other, 'I
really wonder if there is a church out in the wood. The bell
has indeed a strange sweet sound! Shall we go there and see
what the cause of it is?' The rich drove, the poor walked, but
the way seemed to them extraordinarily long, and when they
arrived at a number of willow trees on the border of the wood
they sat down, looked up into the great branches and thought
they were now really in the wood. A confectioner from the town
also came out and put up a stall there; then came another
confectioner who hung a bell over his stall, which was covered
with pitch to protect it from the rain, but the clapper was
wanting.

When people came home they used to say that it had been
very romantic, and that really means something else than
merely taking tea. Three persons declared that they had gone
as far as the end of the wood; they had always heard the
strange sound, but there it seemed to them as if it came from
the town. One of them wrote verses about the bell, and said
that it was like the voice of a mother speaking to an
intelligent and beloved child; no tune, he said, was sweeter
than the sound of the bell.

The emperor of the country heard of it, and declared that
he who would really find out where the sound came from should
receive the title of 'Bellringer to the World,' even if there
was no bell at all.

Now many went out into the wood for the sake of this
splendid berth; but only one of them came back with some sort
of explanation. None of them had gone far enough, nor had he,
and yet he said that the sound of the bell came from a large
owl in a hollow tree. It was a wisdom owl, which continually
knocked its head against the tree, but he was unable to say
with certainty whether its head or the hollow trunk of the
tree was the cause of the noise.

He was appointed 'Bellringer to the World,' and wrote
every year a short dissertation on the owl, but by this means
people did not become any wiser than they had been before.

It was just confirmation-day. The clergyman had delivered
a beautiful and touching sermon, the candidates were deeply
moved by it; it was indeed a very important day for them; they
were all at once transformed from mere children to grown-up
people; the childish soul was to fly over, as it were, into a
more reasonable being.

The sun shone most brightly; and the sound of the great
unknown bell was heard more distinctly than ever. They had a
mind to go thither, all except three. One of them wished to go
home and try on her ball dress, for this very dress and the
ball were the cause of her being confirmed this time,
otherwise she would not have been allowed to go. The second, a
poor boy, had borrowed a coat and a pair of boots from the son
of his landlord to be confirmed in, and he had to return them
at a certain time. The third said that he never went into
strange places if his parents were not with him; he had always
been a good child, and wished to remain so, even after being
confirmed, and they ought not to tease him for this; they,
however, did it all the same. These three, therefore did not
go; the others went on. The sun was shining, the birds were
singing, and the confirmed children sang too, holding each
other by the hand, for they had no position yet, and they were
all equal in the eyes of God. Two of the smallest soon became
tired and returned to the town; two little girls sat down and
made garlands of flowers, they, therefore, did not go on. When
the others arrived at the willow trees, where the confectioner
had put up his stall, they said: 'Now we are out here; the
bell does not in reality exist- it is only something that
people imagine!'

Then suddenly the sound of the bell was heard so
beautifully and solemnly from the wood that four or five made
up their minds to go still further on. The wood was very
thickly grown. It was difficult to advance: wood lilies and
anemones grew almost too high; flowering convolvuli and
brambles were hanging like garlands from tree to tree; while
the nightingales were singing and the sunbeams played. That
was very beautiful! But the way was unfit for the girls; they
would have torn their dresses. Large rocks, covered with moss
of various hues, were lying about; the fresh spring water
rippled forth with a peculiar sound. 'I don't think that can
be the bell,' said one of the confirmed children, and then he
lay down and listened. 'We must try to find out if it is!' And
there he remained, and let the others walk on.

They came to a hut built of the bark of trees and
branches; a large crab-apple tree spread its branches over it,
as if it intended to pour all its fruit on the roof, upon
which roses were blooming; the long boughs covered the gable,
where a little bell was hanging. Was this the one they had
heard? All agreed that it must be so, except one who said that
the bell was too small and too thin to be heard at such a
distance, and that it had quite a different sound to that
which had so touched men's hearts.

He who spoke was a king's son, and therefore the others
said that such a one always wishes to be cleverer than other
people.

Therefore they let him go alone; and as he walked on, the
solitude of the wood produced a feeling of reverence in his
breast; but still he heard the little bell about which the
others rejoiced, and sometimes, when the wind blew in that
direction, he could hear the sounds from the confectioner's
stall, where the others were singing at tea. But the deep
sounds of the bell were much stronger; soon it seemed to him
as if an organ played an accompaniment- the sound came from
the left, from the side where the heart is. Now something
rustled among the bushes, and a little boy stood before the
king's son, in wooden shoes and such a short jacket that the
sleeves did not reach to his wrists. They knew each other: the
boy was the one who had not been able to go with them because
he had to take the coat and boots back to his landlord's son.
That he had done, and had started again in his wooden shoes
and old clothes, for the sound of the bell was too enticing-
he felt he must go on.

'We might go together,' said the king's son. But the poor
boy with the wooden shoes was quite ashamed; he pulled at the
short sleeves of his jacket, and said that he was afraid he
could not walk so fast; besides, he was of opinion that the
bell ought to be sought at the right, for there was all that
was grand and magnificent.

'Then we shall not meet,' said the king's son, nodding to
the poor boy, who went into the deepest part of the wood,
where the thorns tore his shabby clothes and scratched his
hands, face, and feet until they bled. The king's son also
received several good scratches, but the sun was shining on
his way, and it is he whom we will now follow, for he was a
quick fellow. 'I will and must find the bell,' he said, 'if I
have to go to the end of the world.'

Ugly monkeys sat high in the branches and clenched their
teeth. 'Shall we beat him?' they said. 'Shall we thrash him?
He is a king's son!'

But he walked on undaunted, deeper and deeper into the
wood, where the most wonderful flowers were growing; there
were standing white star lilies with blood-red stamens,
sky-blue tulips shining when the wind moved them; apple-trees
covered with apples like large glittering soap bubbles: only
think how resplendent these trees were in the sunshine! All
around were beautiful green meadows, where hart and hind
played in the grass. There grew magnificent oaks and
beech-trees; and if the bark was split of any of them, long
blades of grass grew out of the clefts; there were also large
smooth lakes in the wood, on which the swans were swimming
about and flapping their wings. The king's son often stood
still and listened; sometimes he thought that the sound of the
bell rose up to him out of one of these deep lakes, but soon
he found that this was a mistake, and that the bell was
ringing still farther in the wood. Then the sun set, the
clouds were as red as fire; it became quiet in the wood; he
sank down on his knees, sang an evening hymn and said: 'I
shall never find what I am looking for! Now the sun is
setting, and the night, the dark night, is approaching. Yet I
may perhaps see the round sun once more before he disappears
beneath the horizon. I will climb up these rocks, they are as
high as the highest trees!' And then, taking hold of the
creepers and roots, he climbed up on the wet stones, where
water-snakes were wriggling and the toads, as it were, barked
at him: he reached the top before the sun, seen from such a
height, had quite set. 'Oh, what a splendour!' The sea, the
great majestic sea, which was rolling its long waves against
the shore, stretched out before him, and the sun was standing
like a large bright altar and there where sea and heaven met-
all melted together in the most glowing colours; the wood was
singing, and his heart too. The whole of nature was one large
holy church, in which the trees and hovering clouds formed the
pillars, the flowers and grass the woven velvet carpet, and
heaven itself was the great cupola; up there the flame colour
vanished as soon as the sun disappeared, but millions of stars
were lighted; diamond lamps were shining, and the king's son
stretched his arms out towards heaven, towards the sea, and
towards the wood. Then suddenly the poor boy with the
short-sleeved jacket and the wooden shoes appeared; he had
arrived just as quickly on the road he had chosen. And they
ran towards each other and took one another's hand, in the
great cathedral of nature and poesy, and above them sounded
the invisible holy bell; happy spirits surrounded them,
singing hallelujahs and rejoicing.


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