In the steeple of an old church was a beautiful chime of bells, which for many years had rung out joyous peals at the touch of the sexton’s hand upon the rope.
“I’ll make the air full of music to-morrow,” said the white-haired man, as he lay down to his slumbers. “To-morrow is Christmas, and the people shall be glad and gay. Ah, yes! right merry will be the chimes I shall ring them.” Soon sleep gathered him in a close embrace, and visions of the morrow’s joy flitted over his brain.
At midnight some dark clouds swept over the tower, while darker shadows of discontent fell on the peaceful chime.
Hark! what was that? A low, discordant sound was heard among the bells.
“Here we have been ringing for seven long years,” murmured the highest bell in the chime.
“Well, what of it? That’s what we are placed here for,” said a voice from one of the deeper-toned bells.
“But I have rung long enough. Besides, I am weary of always singing one tone,” answered the high bell, in a clear, sharp voice.
“Together we make sweetest harmony,” returned the bell next the complainer.
“I well know that, but I am tired of my one tone, while you can bear monotony. For my part, I do not mean to answer to the call of the rope to-morrow.”
“What! not ring on Christmas Day!” exclaimed all the bells together.
“No, I don’t. You may exclaim as much as you please; but, if you had common sympathy, you would see in a moment how weary I am of singing this one high tone.”
“But we all have to give our notes,” responded a low, sweet-voiced bell.
“That’s just what I mean to change. We are all weary of our notes, and need change.”
“But we should have to be recast,” said the low-toned bell, sadly.
“Most certainly we should. I should like the fun of that. Now how many of you will be silent in the morning when the old sexton comes to ring us?”
“I will,” answered the lowest-toned bell, boldly.
“If part of us are silent and refuse to ring, of what use will the rest be?” said one who had remained quiet until then. “For a chime all of us are needed,” she added, sadly.
“That’s just the point,” remarked the leader. “If all will be still, none will be blamed: the people will think we are worn out and need making over. So we shall be taken down from this tower where we have been so long, and stand a chance of seeing something of the world. For my part, I am tired to death of being up here, and seeing nothing but this quiet valley.”
A murmur ran from one to another, till all agreed to be silent on the morrow, though many of the chime would have preferred to ring as usual.
The man who had presented the bells to the church returned at midnight, after a long journey to his native valley, bringing with him a friend, almost solely to hear the beautiful chime on the morrow.
As he passed the church, on his way home, the murmuring of the bells was just ceasing. “The wind moves them—the beautiful bells,” he said. “But to-morrow you shall hear how sweet they will sing,” he added, casting a loving glance up to the tower where hung the bells.
A few miles from the valley, close to the roadside, stood a cottage inhabited by a man and wife whose only child was fast fading from the world.
“Raise me up a little, mother,” said the dying boy, “so I can hear the Christmas chime. It will be the last time I shall hear them here, mother. Is it almost morning?”
The pale mother wiped the death-dew from his brow and kissed him, saying, “Yes, dear, it’s almost morning. The bells will chime soon as the first ray comes over the hills.”
Patiently the child sat, pillowed in his bed, till the golden arrows of light flashed over the earth. Day had come, but no chime.
“What can be the matter?” said the anxious mother, as she strained her eyes in the direction of the tower.
What if the old sexton were dead? The thought took all her strength away. If death had taken him first, who would lay her boy tenderly away?
“Is it almost time?”
“Almost, Jimmy, darling. Perhaps the old sexton has slept late.”
“Will the bells chime in heaven, mother?”
“Yes, dear, I hope so.”
“Will they ring them for me if—if—I—mother! hark! the bells are ringing! The good old sexton has gone to the church at last!”
The boy’s eyes glistened with a strange light. In vain the mother listened. No sound came to her ears. All was still as death.
“Oh, how beautiful they sing!” he said, and fell back and died.
Other chimes fell on his ear, sweeter far than the bells of St. Auburn.
For more than an hour the old sexton had been working at the ropes in vain. No sound come forth from either bell.
“What can be the matter?” he exclaimed, nervously. “For seven long years they have not failed to ring out their tones. I’ll try once more.” And he did so, vigorously.
Just then the figure of a man stood in the doorway. It was the owner of the chime. He had gone to the sexton’s house, not hearing the bells at the usual hour, thinking he had overslept; and, not finding him, had sought him at the church.
He tried the ropes himself, but with no more success than the sexton.
“What can it mean?” he said, as he turned sorrowfully away.
It was a sad Christmas in the pleasant valley. To have those sweet sounds missing, and on such a day,—it was a loss to all, and an omen of ill to many.
The next day, workmen were sent to the tower to examine the bells. No defect was perceptible. They were sound and whole, and no mischief-making lad, as some had suggested, had stolen their tongues.
The bells were taken down and carried to a distant city to be recast.
“There! didn’t I tell you we should see the world?” said their leader, after they were packed and on their way.
“I don’t think we are seeing much of it now, in this dark box,” answered one of the bells.
“Wait till we are at our journey’s end. We are in a transition state now. Haven’t I listened to the old pastor many a time, and heard him say those very words? I could not comprehend them then, but I can now. Oh, how delightful it is to have the prospect of some change before us!” Thus the old bell chatted to the journey’s end, while the other bells had but little to say.
Three days later they were at the end of their long ride, and placed, one by one, in a fiery furnace. Instead of murmurs now, their groans filled the air.
“Oh, for one moment’s rest from the heat and the hammer! Oh, that we were all at the sweet vale of St. Auburn!” said the leader of all their sorrow.
“How sweetly would we sing!” echoed all.
“It’s a terrible thing to be recast!” sighed the deepest-toned bell; and he quivered with fear as they placed him in the furnace.
At last, after much suffering, they were pronounced perfect, and repacked for their return.
The same tone was given to each, but the quality was finer, softer, and richer than before. The workmen knew not why—none but the suffering bells, and the master hand who put them into the furnace of affliction.
They were all hung once more in the tower—wiser and better bells. Never again was heard a murmur of discontent from either because but one tone was its mission. In the moonlight they talk among themselves, of their sad but needful experience, and of the lesson which it taught them,—as we hope it has our reader,—that each must be faithful to the quality or tone which the Master has given us, and which is needful to the rich and full harmonies of life.
The Bells by J S Adams in Allegories of Life