Why the Chimes Rang
By Raymond MacDonald Alden
In a faraway country where few people have ever traveled, there was once a wonderful church. It stood on a high hill in a great city. Every Sunday and on holidays like Christmas, thousands of people climbed the hill to the church. The main room of the church was so long that if you stood at one end, you almost could not see the other end. In the farthest corner was an organ. This organ could play music very loud. Sometimes when the organ is played, people from miles around would close their windows and prepare for a thunderstorm. No such church as this was ever seen before. It was especially wonderful when it was lighted with burning candles for a holiday and filled with young and old people.
But the most wonderful and most unusual thing about the huge church was the sound of its bells. Connected to the church was a huge stone tower. Everyone who built the church had been dead for hundreds of years. No one could remember how high the tower reached. It rose so far into the sky that no one could see the top, except when the weather was very clear. Even then a person could not be sure that the top was in sight. All the people knew that at the top of the tower was a group of bells, Christmas bells. They had hung there ever since the church had been built. Their sound was very special. Some thought their sound was so special, because a great musician had made them and put them in place; others said it was because of their great height. They said the air was so clear and pure high up where the bells rang. Everyone who had heard the bells said their sound was the sweetest in the world. Some said they sounded like the singing of God’s angles; others said they sounded like wind singing through the trees.
But the sad 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 told him of hearing the bells when she was a little girl. But he was the only one who knew even that much. The bells were Christmas bells. They were not meant to be played by the organist, nor were they meant to be heard on common days.
It was the custom on the night before Christmas, Christmas Eve, for all the people to bring their gifts to the Baby Jesus to the church. When the greatest and best gift was given, the music of the Christmas bells would be heard. It came from far up in the tower. Some said the wind rang the bells, others said God’s angels set the bells moving. But for many long years, the bells did not ring. Some said that people were less careful of their gifts for the Baby Jesus, others said that no gift was great enough to earn the music of the bells. Every Christmas Eve, rich people tried to give better gifts than anyone else, yet the rich people did not give anything they wanted for themselves. Each year there were many gifts, each year the religious service was good, but the bells in the stone tower did not ring.
Far away from the city in a country village lived a boy named Pedro and his younger brother. They knew very little about the Christmas bells, but they had heard about the religious service in the church on Christmas Eve. They made a secret plan that they often discussed–they would travel to see the beautiful service. Pedro would say, “Nobody can guess, Little Brother, all the good things there are to hear and see. I have even heard it said the Baby Jesus comes to bless the service. Would it not be wonderful if we could see him?”
The day before Christmas was very cold, there was snow in the air, and the ground was hard and white with ice. Pedro and Little Brother slipped quietly away in the early afternoon. Walking was very hard in the icy air. But before night they had walked far enough to see light from the big city ahead of them.
They were about to enter the city when they saw something dark in the snow near their path. They stepped aside to look at it. It was a poor woman who had fallen just outside the city. She was too sick and too tired to keep going. The soft snow made a kind of bed for her. Soon she would be so sound asleep that no one would ever wake her again. Pedro knelt beside her and tried to wake her. He pulled her arm a little as though he would try to carry her. He turned her face toward him so that he could rub the snow on it. Then he looked at her silently.
“It is no use, Little Brother,” he said. “You will have to go on alone.”
“Alone? ” said Little Brother. “And you will not see the Christmas service?”
“No”, said Pedro. He could not hold back a sad sound in his throat. “See this poor woman. Her face looks like the face of the mother of Jesus in the church window. She will freeze to death if nobody cares for her. Everyone has gone to church. But when you come back you can bring someone to help her. I will rub her to keep her from freezing and maybe I can get her to eat the bread that is in my pocket.”
“I cannot leave you and go on alone. ” said Little Brother.
“Both of us need not miss the service.” said Pedro. “You can find your way to the church. You must see and hear everything twice, Little Brother. Once for you and once for me. I am sure the Baby Jesus must know how I should love to come with you and pray to him and if you get a chance, Little Brother, give the Baby Jesus this small silver coin I brought. Give it when no one is looking and do not get in anyone’s way. Remember where you left me.”
In this way, Pedro hurried Little Brother to the city. He closed his eyes to keep back tears as he heard his brother’s footsteps moving further and further away. It was so hard to miss the music and the beauty of the Christmas service. Instead, he was here in the cold and snow.
The great church was beautiful that night. Everyone said it had never looked so bright and beautiful. When the organ played and the thousands of people sang, the walls shook with the sound. Young Pedro, outside the city wall, felt the earth shake around him. At the end of the service came the moment to bring gifts to the Baby Jesus. Rich men, important men gave their gifts. Some brought jewels. A great writer gave a book he had been writing for years and years. Last of all, came the king of the country. He was hoping as everyone hoped to win for himself the music of the bells. People in the seats spoke quietly to each other as they saw the king take his jewel hat from his head and offered it as his gift.
“Surely,” everyone said, “we shall hear the bells now. Nothing like this has ever happened before.”
But all they heard was the cold wind in the tower. The people shook their heads. Some of them said as they had said before that they never really believed to the story of the bells. They said they did not believe the bells ever rang at all.
The giving of gifts was over and the singers began the closing song. Suddenly the man playing the organ stopped playing as if he had been shocked. Everyone looked at the old priest. He was standing at the front of the church holding up his hand for silence.
Not a sound could be heard from anyone in the church. But as all the people listened, there came softly but clearly through the air, the sound of the bells in the tower. The music was so far away and yet so clear. It was much sweeter than anything that had ever been heard before. The music seemed to rise and fall in the sky.
People in the church sat still as though something held their shoulders. Then they stood up together. They looked at the front of the church to see what great gift had caused the bells to ring. All that those in front saw was a child. Little Brother had moved silently to the front of church when no one was looking. He had given the Baby Jesus Pedro’s small piece of silver.