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THE BELL-DEEP

 

DING-DONGDing-Dong!”It sounds up from the bell-deepin the Odense RiverWhat river is that Every child in the town of Odense knows that it runs at the bottom of the gardens and flows on under the wooden bridges from the dam to the watermillIn the river grow the yellow waterlilies and brown feathery reeds the dark velvety reedmace grows there high and thickold and decayed willows slanting and totteringhang far out over the stream beside the monks’ meadow and by the bleach-in groundbut opposite there are gardens upon gardenseach different from the rest some with pretty flowers and bowers like little dolls’ pleasure groundsothers displayin only 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 fathomOpposite the old nunnery is the deepest place which is called thebelldeep”,and there dwellls the Riverman”.He sleeps through the day while the sun shines down upon the waterbut in starry and moonlit nights he shows himselfHe is very oldgrandmother says that she has heard her own grandmother tell of him he is said to lead a solitary lifeand to have nobody with whom he can converse save the great old church Bell Once the Bell hung in the church towerbut now there is no trace left of the tower or of the churchwhich was called StAlban's

Ding-dong Dingdong!”sounded the Bell when the tower still stood thereand one eveningwhile the sun was settingand the Bell was swinging away bravelyit broke loose and came flying down through the airthe brilliant metal shining in the ruddy beam

DingdongDing-dong Now I'm going to bed!”sang the Belland flew down into the Odense River where it is deepestand that is why the place is called the belldeep”.

But the Bell got neither rest nor sleepDown in the River-man'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 onebut that is not true for then the Bell is only talking with the Riverman who is now no longer alone

And what is the Belltelling It is old very old the story goesit was there long before grandmother's grand-mother was bornand yet it is but a child in comparison with the Riverman who is an old quiet personage an odditywith his hose of eelskin and his scaly jacket with the yellow lilies for buttons and a wreath of reed in his hair and duckweed in his beard and that is not very pretty

What the Bell tells To repeat it all would require years and daysfor year by year it is telling the old storiessometimes short ones sometimes long onesaccord-in to its whimit tells of old timesof the dark hard timesthus

In the church of StAlban the monk mounted up into the tower where the bell hunghe was young and handsome but thoughtful exceedingly He looked through the loophole out upon the Odense River when the bed of the water was yet broad and the monk's meadow was still a lakehe looked out over it and over the rampart and over the nuns’ hill oppositewhere the convent lay and the light gleamed forth from the nun's cell he had known the nun right welland he thought of her and his heart beat quicker as he thought Dingdong Dingdong !”

Yes that is how the Bell told the story

Into the tower came also the silly manservant of the bishop and when I the Bell who am made of metalrang hard and loud and swung to and fro I might have beaten out his brains He sat down close under meand 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 itI may sing of everything that is kept concealed behind lock and bars There it is cold and wet The rats are eating them up aliveNobody knows of itNobody hears of itNot even now for the Bell is ringing and singing its loud Ding-dongDing-dong

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There was a Kingthey called him CanuteHe bowed himself before bishop and monkbut when he offended the free peasants with heavy taxes and hard wordsthey seized their weapons and put him to flight like a wild beastHe sought shelter in the church and shut gate and door behind him The violent band surrounded the church I heard tell of itThe crows ravens and magpies started up in terror at the yelling and shouting that sounded aroundThey flew into the tower and out againthey looked down upon the throng below and they alsolooked into the windows of the church and screamed out aloud what they saw thereKing Canute knelt before the altar in prayer his brothers Eric and Benedict stood by him as a guard with drawn swordsbut the King's servantthe treacherous Blakebetrayed his masterthe throng in front of the church knew where they could hit the Kingand one of them flung a stone through a pane of glassand 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 Dingdong Dingdong!”

The church bell hangs high and looks far aroundgets visits from the birds and understands their languagethe wind roars in upon it through windows and loopholesand the wind knows everything for he gets it from the airwhich encircles all living thingsthe air makes its way into men's lungsit knows everything that finds utterance thereevery word and every sighThe air knows it the wind tells itand the church Bell understands his tongueand rings it out into the world,‘ Ding-dong Ding-dong

But it was too much for me to hear and to know I was not able to ring it outI became so tiredso heavythat the beam broke and I flew out into the shining air down where the water is deepestand where the Riverman lives solitary and alone and year by year I tell him what I have heard and what I know.‘DingdongDingdong

Thus it sounds out of the belldeep in the Odense Riverthat is what grandmother told us

But our schoolmaster says that there is no bell that rings down there for it can't do so and that no Riverman dwells there for there are no River-menAnd when all the other church bells are sounding sweetly he says that it is not really the bells that are souding but that it is the air itself which sends forth the notesand grand-mother said to us that the Bell itself said it was the air who told it him consequently they are agreed on that pointand this much is sure

Be cautious cautious and take good heed to theyself,”they both say

The air knows everything It is around usit is in usit talks of our thoughts and of our deeds and it speakslonger of them than does the Bell down in the depths of the Odense River where the Riverman dwellsit rings it out int the vault of heavenfarfar outfor ever and evertill the heaven bells soundDing-dongDingdong!”

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