Old Fashioned Christmas TalesOld Fashioned Christmas Stories
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WHY THE CHIMES RANG

* Copyright, 1906. Used by special permission of the publishers, the
Bobbs-Merrill Company.

RAYMOND MC ALDEN

There was once in a faraway country where few people have ever
travelled, a wonderful church. It stood on a high hill in the midst of
a great city; and every Sunday, as well as on sacred days like
Christmas, thousands of people climbed the hill to its great archways,
looking like lines of ants all moving in the same direction.

When you came to the building itself, you found stone columns and dark
passages, and a grand entrance leading to the main room of the church.
This room was so long that one standing at the doorway could scarcely
see to the other end, where the choir stood by the marble altar. In the
farthest corner was the organ; and this organ was so loud, that
sometimes when it played, the people for miles around would close their
shutters and prepare for a great thunderstorm. Altogether, no such
church as this was ever seen before, especially when it was lighted up
for some festival, and crowded with people, young and old. But the
strangest thing about the whole building was the wonderful chime of
bells.

At one corner of the church was a great gray tower, with ivy growing
over it as far up as one could see. I say as far as one could see,
because the tower was quite great enough to fit the great church, and
it rose so far into the sky that it was only in very fair weather that
any one claimed to be able to see the top. Even then one could not be
certain that it was in sight. Up, and up, and up climbed the stones and
the ivy; and as the men who built the church had been dead for hundreds
of years, every one had forgotten how high the tower was supposed to be.

Now all the people knew that at the top of the tower was a chime of
Christmas bells. They had hung there ever since the church had been
built, and were the most beautiful bells in the world. Some thought it
was because a great musician had cast them and arranged them in their
place; others said it was because of the great height, which reached up
where the air was clearest and purest; however that might be no one who
had ever heard the chimes denied that they were the sweetest in the
world. Some described them as sounding like angels far up in the sky;
others as sounding like strange winds singing through the trees.

But the fact was that no one had heard them for years and years. There
was an old man living not far from the church who said that his mother
had spoken of hearing them when she was a little girl, and he was the
only one who was sure of as much as that. They were Christmas chimes,
you see, and were not meant to be played by men or on common days. It
was the custom on Christmas Eve for all the people to bring to the
church their offerings to the Christ-Child; and when the greatest and
best offering was laid on the altar there used to come sounding through
the music of the choir the Christmas chimes far up in the tower. Some
said that the wind rang them, and others, that they were so high that
the angels could set them swinging. But for many long years they had
never been heard. It was said that people had been growing less careful
of their gifts for the Christ-Child, and that no offering was brought
great enough to deserve the music of the chimes.

Every Christmas Eve the rich people still crowded to the altar, each
one trying to bring some better gift than any other, without giving
anything that he wanted for himself, and the church was crowded with
those who thought that perhaps the wonderful bells might be heard
again. But although the service was splendid, and the offerings plenty,
only the roar of the wind could be heard, far up in the stone tower.

Now, a number of miles from the city, in a little country village,
where nothing could be seen of the great church but glimpses of the
tower when the weather was fine, lived a boy named Pedro, and his
little brother. They knew very little about the Christmas chimes, but
they had heard of the service in the church on Christmas Eve, and had a
secret plan which they had often talked over when by themselves, to go
to see the beautiful celebration.

"Nobody can guess, Little Brother," Pedro would say; "all the fine
things there are to see and hear; and I have even heard it said that
the Christ-Child sometimes comes down to bless the service. What if we
could see Him?"

The day before Christmas was bitterly cold, with a few lonely
snowflakes flying in the air, and a hard white crust on the ground.
Sure enough Pedro and Little Brother were able to slip quietly away
early in the afternoon; and although the walking was hard in the frosty
air, before nightfall they had trudged so far, hand in hand, that they
saw the lights of the big city just ahead of them. Indeed they were
about to enter one of the great gates in the wall that surrounded it,
when they saw something dark on the snow near their path, and stepped
aside to look at it.

It was a poor woman, who had fallen just outside the city, too sick and
tired to get in where she might have found shelter. The soft snow made
of a drift a sort of pillow for her, and she would soon be so sound
asleep, in the wintry air, that no one could ever waken her again. All
this Pedro saw in a moment and he knelt down beside her and tried to
rouse her, even tugging at her arm a little, as though he would have
tried to carry her away. He turned her face toward him, so that he
could rub some of the snow on it, and when he had looked at her
silently a moment he stood up again, and said:

"It's no use, Little Brother. You will have to go on alone."

"Alone?" cried Little Brother. "And you not see the Christmas festival?"

"No," said Pedro, and he could not keep back a bit of a choking sound
in his throat. "See this poor woman. Her face looks like the Madonna in
the chapel window, and she will freeze to death if nobody cares for
her. Every one has gone to the church now, but when you come back you
can bring some one to help her. I will rub her to keep her from
freezing, and perhaps get her to eat the bun that is left in my pocket."

"But I cannot bear to leave you, and go on alone," said Little Brother.

"Both of us need not miss the service," said Pedro. "and it had better
be I than you. You can easily find your way to church; and you must see
and hear everything twice, Little Brother--once for you and once for
me. I am sure the Christ-Child must know how I should love to come with
you and worship Him; and oh! if you get a chance, Little Brother, to
slip up to the altar without getting in any one's way, take this little
silver piece of mine, and lay it down for my offering, when no one is
looking. Do not forget where you have left me, and forgive me for not
going with you."

In this way he hurried Little Brother off to the city and winked hard
to keep back the tears, as he heard the crunching footsteps sounding
farther and farther away in the twilight. It was pretty hard to lose
the music and splendour of the Christmas celebration that he had been
planning for so long, and spend the time instead in that lonely place
in the snow.

The great church was a wonderful place that night. Every one said that
it had never looked so bright and beautiful before. When the organ
played and the thousands of people sang, the walls shook with the
sound, and little Pedro, away outside the city wall, felt the earth
tremble around them.

At the close of the service came the procession with the offerings to
be laid on the altar. Rich men and great men marched proudly up to lay
down their gifts to the Christ-Child. Some brought wonderful jewels,
some baskets of gold so heavy that they could scarcely carry them down
the aisle. A great writer laid down a book that he had been making for
years and years. And last of all walked the king of the country, hoping
with all the rest to win for himself the chime of the Christmas bells.
There went a great murmur through the church as the people saw the king
take from his head the royal crown, all set with precious stones, and
lay it gleaming on the altar, as his offering to the Holy Child.
"Surely," every one said, "we shall hear the bells now, for nothing
like this has ever happened before."

But still only the cold old wind was heard in the tower and the people
shook their heads; and some of them said, as they had before, that they
never really believed the story of the chimes, and doubted if they ever
rang at all.

The procession was over, and the choir began the closing hymn. Suddenly
the organist stopped playing; and every one looked at the old minister,
who was standing by the altar, holding up his hand for silence. Not a
sound could be heard from any one in the church, but as all the people
strained their ears to listen, there came softly, but distinctly,
swinging through the air, the sound of the chimes in the tower. So far
away, and yet so clear the music seemed--so much sweeter were the notes
than anything that had been heard before, rising and falling away up
there in the sky, that the people in the church sat for a moment as
still as though something held each of them by the shoulders. Then they
all stood up together and stared straight at the altar, to see what
great gift had awakened the long silent bells.

But all that the nearest of them saw was the childish figure of Little
Brother, who had crept softly down the aisle when no one was looking,
and had laid Pedro's little piece of silver on the altar.

The Birds'Christmas

HOME Teresa Thomas Bohannon
Author of the
FairyTales for Grown-Ups
Shadows In A Timeless Myth
A Very Merry Chase.

Myths      Legends     Beowulf
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