The Bell-Tower


In the south of Europe, nigh a once frescoed capital, now with dankmould cankering its bloom, central in a plain, stands what, at distance,seems the black mossed stump of some immeasurable pine, fallen, inforgotten days, with Anak and the Titan.

As all along where the pine tree falls, its dissolution leaves a mossymound--last-flung shadow of the perished trunk; never lengthening, neverlessening; unsubject to the fleet falsities of the sun; shade immutable,and true gauge which cometh by prostration--so westward from what seemsthe stump, one steadfast spear of lichened ruin veins the plain.

From that tree-top, what birded chimes of silver throats had rung. Astone pine; a metallic aviary in its crown: the Bell-Tower, built by thegreat mechanician, the unblest foundling, Bannadonna.

Like Babel's, its base was laid in a high hour of renovated earth,following the second deluge, when the waters of the Dark Ages had driedup, and once more the green appeared. No wonder that, after so long anddeep submersion, the jubilant expectation of the race should, as withNoah's sons, soar into Shinar aspiration.

In firm resolve, no man in Europe at that period went beyond Bannadonna.Enriched through commerce with the Levant, the state in which he livedvoted to have the noblest Bell-Tower in Italy. His repute assigned himto be architect.

Stone by stone, month by month, the tower rose. Higher, higher;snail-like in pace, but torch or rocket in its pride.

After the masons would depart, the builder, standing alone upon itsever-ascending summit, at close of every day, saw that he overtoppedstill higher walls and trees. He would tarry till a late hour there,wrapped in schemes of other and still loftier piles. Those who ofsaints' days thronged the spot--hanging to the rude poles ofscaffolding, like sailors on yards, or bees on boughs, unmindful of limeand dust, and falling chips of stone--their homage not the lessinspirited him to self-esteem.

At length the holiday of the Tower came. To the sound of viols, theclimax-stone slowly rose in air, and, amid the firing of ordnance, waslaid by Bannadonna's hands upon the final course. Then mounting it, hestood erect, alone, with folded arms, gazing upon the white summits ofblue inland Alps, and whiter crests of bluer Alps off-shore--sightsinvisible from the plain. Invisible, too, from thence was that eye heturned below, when, like the cannon booms, came up to him the people'scombustions of applause.

That which stirred them so was, seeing with what serenity the builderstood three hundred feet in air, upon an unrailed perch. This none buthe durst do. But his periodic standing upon the pile, in each stage ofits growth--such discipline had its last result.

Little remained now but the bells. These, in all respects, mustcorrespond with their receptacle.

The minor ones were prosperously cast. A highly enriched one followed,of a singular make, intended for suspension in a manner before unknown.The purpose of this bell, its rotary motion, and connection with theclock-work, also executed at the time, will, in the sequel, receivemention.

In the one erection, bell-tower and clock-tower were united, though,before that period, such structures had commonly been built distinct; asthe Campanile and Torre del 'Orologio of St. Mark to this day attest.

But it was upon the great state-bell that the founder lavished his moredaring skill. In vain did some of the less elated magistrates herecaution him; saying that though truly the tower was Titanic, yet limitshould be set to the dependent weight of its swaying masses. Butundeterred, he prepared his mammoth mould, dented with mythologicaldevices; kindled his fires of balsamic firs; melted his tin and copper,and, throwing in much plate, contributed by the public spirit of thenobles, let loose the tide.

The unleashed metals bayed like hounds. The workmen shrunk. Throughtheir fright, fatal harm to the bell was dreaded. Fearless as Shadrach,Bannadonna, rushing through the glow, smote the chief culprit with hisponderous ladle. From the smitten part, a splinter was dashed into theseething mass, and at once was melted in.

Next day a portion of the work was heedfully uncovered. All seemedright. Upon the third morning, with equal satisfaction, it was baredstill lower. At length, like some old Theban king, the whole cooledcasting was disinterred. All was fair except in one strange spot. But ashe suffered no one to attend him in these inspections, he concealed theblemish by some preparation which none knew better to devise.

The casting of such a mass was deemed no small triumph for the caster;one, too, in which the state might not scorn to share. The homicide wasoverlooked. By the charitable that deed was but imputed to suddentransports of esthetic passion, not to any flagitious quality. A kickfrom an Arabian charger; not sign of vice, but blood.

His felony remitted by the judge, absolution given him by the priest,what more could even a sickly conscience have desired.

Honoring the tower and its builder with another holiday, the republicwitnessed the hoisting of the bells and clock-work amid shows and pompssuperior to the former.

Some months of more than usual solitude on Bannadonna's part ensued. Itwas not unknown that he was engaged upon something for the belfry,intended to complete it, and surpass all that had gone before. Mostpeople imagined that the design would involve a casting like the bells.But those who thought they had some further insight, would shake theirheads, with hints, that not for nothing did the mechanician keep sosecret. Meantime, his seclusion failed not to invest his work with moreor less of that sort of mystery pertaining to the forbidden.

Ere long he had a heavy object hoisted to the belfry, wrapped in a darksack or cloak--a procedure sometimes had in the case of an elaboratepiece of sculpture, or statue, which, being intended to grace the frontof a new edifice, the architect does not desire exposed to criticaleyes, till set up, finished, in its appointed place. Such was theimpression now. But, as the object rose, a statuary present observed, orthought he did, that it was not entirely rigid, but was, in a manner,pliant. At last, when the hidden thing had attained its final height,and, obscurely seen from below, seemed almost of itself to step into thebelfry, as if with little assistance from the crane, a shrewd oldblacksmith present ventured the suspicion that it was but a living man.This surmise was thought a foolish one, while the general interestfailed not to augment.

Not without demur from Bannadonna, the chief-magistrate of the town,with an associate--both elderly men--followed what seemed the image upthe tower. But, arrived at the belfry, they had little recompense.Plausibly entrenching himself behind the conceded mysteries of his art,the mechanician withheld present explanation. The magistrates glancedtoward the cloaked object, which, to their surprise, seemed now to havechanged its attitude, or else had before been more perplexinglyconcealed by the violent muffling action of the wind without. It seemednow seated upon some sort of frame, or chair, contained within thedomino. They observed that nigh the top, in a sort of square, the web ofthe cloth, either from accident or design, had its warp partlywithdrawn, and the cross threads plucked out here and there, so as toform a sort of woven grating. Whether it were the low wind or no,stealing through the stone lattice-work, or only their own perturbedimaginations, is uncertain, but they thought they discerned a slightsort of fitful, spring-like motion, in the domino. Nothing, howeverincidental or insignificant, escaped their uneasy eyes. Among otherthings, they pried out, in a corner, an earthen cup, partly corroded andpartly encrusted, and one whispered to the other, that this cup was justsuch a one as might, in mockery, be offered to the lips of some brazenstatue, or, perhaps, still worse.

But, being questioned, the mechanician said, that the cup was simplyused in his founder's business, and described the purpose; in short, acup to test the condition of metals in fusion. He added, that it had gotinto the belfry by the merest chance.

Again, and again, they gazed at the domino, as at some suspiciousincognito at a Venetian mask. All sorts of vague apprehensions stirredthem. They even dreaded lest, when they should descend, themechanician, though without a flesh and blood companion, for all that,would not be left alone.

Affecting some merriment at their disquietude, he begged to relievethem, by extending a coarse sheet of workman's canvas between them andthe object.

Meantime he sought to interest them in his other work; nor, now that thedomino was out of sight, did they long remain insensible to the artisticwonders lying round them; wonders hitherto beheld but in theirunfinished state; because, since hoisting the bells, none but the casterhad entered within the belfry. It was one trait of his, that, even indetails, he would not let another do what he could, without too greatloss of time, accomplish for himself. So, for several preceding weeks,whatever hours were unemployed in his secret design, had been devoted toelaborating the figures on the bells.

The clock-bell, in particular, now drew attention. Under a patientchisel, the latent beauty of its enrichments, before obscured by thecloudings incident to casting, that beauty in its shyest grace, was nowrevealed. Round and round the bell, twelve figures of gay girls,garlanded, hand-in-hand, danced in a choral ring--the embodied hours.

"Bannadonna," said the chief, "this bell excels all else. No added touchcould here improve. Hark!" hearing a sound, "was that the wind?"

"The wind, Excellenza," was the light response. "But the figures, theyare not yet without their faults. They need some touches yet. When thoseare given, and the--block yonder," pointing towards the canvas screen,"when Haman there, as I merrily call him,--him? _it_, I mean--when Hamanis fixed on this, his lofty tree, then, gentlemen, will I be most happyto receive you here again."

The equivocal reference to the object caused some return ofrestlessness. However, on their part, the visitors forbore furtherallusion to it, unwilling, perhaps, to let the foundling see how easilyit lay within his plebeian art to stir the placid dignity of nobles.

"Well, Bannadonna," said the chief, "how long ere you are ready to setthe clock going, so that the hour shall be sounded? Our interest inyou, not less than in the work itself, makes us anxious to be assured ofyour success. The people, too,--why, they are shouting now. Say theexact hour when you will be ready."

"To-morrow, Excellenza, if you listen for it,--or should you not, allthe same--strange music will be heard. The stroke of one shall be thefirst from yonder bell," pointing to the bell adorned with girls andgarlands, "that stroke shall fall there, where the hand of Una claspsDua's. The stroke of one shall sever that loved clasp. To-morrow, then,at one o'clock, as struck here, precisely here," advancing and placinghis finger upon the clasp, "the poor mechanic will be most happy oncemore to give you liege audience, in this his littered shop. Farewelltill then, illustrious magnificoes, and hark ye for your vassal'sstroke."

His still, Vulcanic face hiding its burning brightness like a forge, hemoved with ostentatious deference towards the scuttle, as if so far toescort their exit. But the junior magistrate, a kind-hearted man,troubled at what seemed to him a certain sardonical disdain, lurkingbeneath the foundling's humble mien, and in Christian sympathy moredistressed at it on his account than on his own, dimly surmising whatmight be the final fate of such a cynic solitaire, nor perhapsuninfluenced by the general strangeness of surrounding things, this goodmagistrate had glanced sadly, sideways from the speaker, and thereuponhis foreboding eye had started at the expression of the unchanging faceof the Hour Una.

"How is this, Bannadonna?" he lowly asked, "Una looks unlike hersisters."

"In Christ's name, Bannadonna," impulsively broke in the chief, hisattention, for the first attracted to the figure, by his associate'sremark, "Una's face looks just like that of Deborah, the prophetess, aspainted by the Florentine, Del Fonca."

"Surely, Bannadonna," lowly resumed the milder magistrate, "you meantthe twelve should wear the same jocundly abandoned air. But see, thesmile of Una seems but a fatal one. 'Tis different."

While his mild associate was speaking, the chief glanced, inquiringly,from him to the caster, as if anxious to mark how the discrepancy wouldbe accounted for. As the chief stood, his advanced foot was on thescuttle's curb.

Bannadonna spoke:

"Excellenza, now that, following your keener eye, I glance upon the faceof Una, I do, indeed perceive some little variance. But look all roundthe bell, and you will find no two faces entirely correspond. Becausethere is a law in art--but the cold wind is rising more; these latticesare but a poor defense. Suffer me, magnificoes, to conduct you, atleast, partly on your way. Those in whose well-being there is a publicstake, should be heedfully attended."

"Touching the look of Una, you were saying, Bannadonna, that there was acertain law in art," observed the chief, as the three now descended thestone shaft, "pray, tell me, then--."

"Pardon; another time, Excellenza;--the tower is damp."

"Nay, I must rest, and hear it now. Here,--here is a wide landing, andthrough this leeward slit, no wind, but ample light. Tell us of yourlaw; and at large."

"Since, Excellenza, you insist, know that there is a law in art, whichbars the possibility of duplicates. Some years ago, you may remember, Igraved a small seal for your republic, bearing, for its chief device,the head of your own ancestor, its illustrious founder. It becomingnecessary, for the customs' use, to have innumerable impressions forbales and boxes, I graved an entire plate, containing one hundred of theseals. Now, though, indeed, my object was to have those hundred headsidentical, and though, I dare say, people think them; so, yet, uponclosely scanning an uncut impression from the plate, no two of thosefive-score faces, side by side, will be found alike. Gravity is the airof all; but, diversified in all. In some, benevolent; in some,ambiguous; in two or three, to a close scrutiny, all but incipientlymalign, the variation of less than a hair's breadth in the linearshadings round the mouth sufficing to all this. Now, Excellenza,transmute that general gravity into joyousness, and subject it to twelveof those variations I have described, and tell me, will you not have myhours here, and Una one of them? But I like--."

Hark! is that--a footfall above?

"Mortar, Excellenza; sometimes it drops to the belfry-floor from thearch where the stonework was left undressed. I must have it seen to. AsI was about to say: for one, I like this law forbidding duplicates. Itevokes fine personalities. Yes, Excellenza, that strange, and--toyou--uncertain smile, and those fore-looking eyes of Una, suitBannadonna very well."

"Hark!--sure we left no soul above?"

"No soul, Excellenza; rest assured, no _soul_--Again the mortar."

"It fell not while we were there."

"Ah, in your presence, it better knew its place, Excellenza," blandlybowed Bannadonna.

"But, Una," said the milder magistrate, "she seemed intently gazing onyou; one would have almost sworn that she picked you out from among usthree."

"If she did, possibly, it might have been her finer apprehension,Excellenza."

"How, Bannadonna? I do not understand you."

"No consequence, no consequence, Excellenza--but the shifted wind isblowing through the slit. Suffer me to escort you on; and then, pardon,but the toiler must to his tools."

"It may be foolish, Signor," said the milder magistrate, as, from thethird landing, the two now went down unescorted, "but, somehow, ourgreat mechanician moves me strangely. Why, just now, when he sosuperciliously replied, his walk seemed Sisera's, God's vain foe, in DelFonca's painting. And that young, sculptured Deborah, too. Ay, andthat--."

"Tush, tush, Signor!" returned the chief. "A passing whim.Deborah?--Where's Jael, pray?"

"Ah," said the other, as they now stepped upon the sod, "Ah, Signor, Isee you leave your fears behind you with the chill and gloom; but mine,even in this sunny air, remain, Hark!"

It was a sound from just within the tower door, whence they had emerged.Turning, they saw it closed.

"He has slipped down and barred us out," smiled the chief; "but it ishis custom."

Proclamation was now made, that the next day, at one hour aftermeridian, the clock would strike, and--thanks to the mechanician'spowerful art--with unusual accompaniments. But what those should be,none as yet could say. The announcement was received with cheers.

By the looser sort, who encamped about the tower all night, lights wereseen gleaming through the topmost blind-work, only disappearing with themorning sun. Strange sounds, too, were heard, or were thought to be, bythose whom anxious watching might not have left mentallyundisturbed--sounds, not only of some ringing implement, but also--sothey said--half-suppressed screams and plainings, such as might haveissued from some ghostly engine, overplied.

Slowly the day drew on; part of the concourse chasing the weary timewith songs and games, till, at last, the great blurred sun rolled, likea football, against the plain.

At noon, the nobility and principal citizens came from the town incavalcade, a guard of soldiers, also, with music, the more to honor theoccasion.

Only one hour more. Impatience grew. Watches were held in hands offeverish men, who stood, now scrutinizing their small dial-plates, andthen, with neck thrown back, gazing toward the belfry, as if the eyemight foretell that which could only be made sensible to the ear; for,as yet, there was no dial to the tower-clock.

The hour hands of a thousand watches now verged within a hair's breadthof the figure 1. A silence, as of the expectation of some Shiloh,pervaded the swarming plain. Suddenly a dull, mangled sound--naughtringing in it; scarcely audible, indeed, to the outer circles of thepeople--that dull sound dropped heavily from the belfry. At the samemoment, each man stared at his neighbor blankly. All watches wereupheld. All hour-hands were at--had passed--the figure 1. No bell-strokefrom the tower. The multitude became tumultuous.

Waiting a few moments, the chief magistrate, commanding silence, hailedthe belfry, to know what thing unforeseen had happened there.

No response.

He hailed again and yet again.

All continued hushed.

By his order, the soldiers burst in the tower-door; when, stationingguards to defend it from the now surging mob, the chief, accompanied byhis former associate, climbed the winding stairs. Half-way up, theystopped to listen. No sound. Mounting faster, they reached the belfry;but, at the threshold, started at the spectacle disclosed. A spaniel,which, unbeknown to them, had followed them thus far, stood shivering asbefore some unknown monster in a brake: or, rather, as if it snuffedfootsteps leading to some other world.

Bannadonna lay, prostrate and bleeding, at the base of the bell whichwas adorned with girls and garlands. He lay at the feet of the hour Una;his head coinciding, in a vertical line, with her left hand, clasped bythe hour Dua. With downcast face impending over him, like Jael overnailed Sisera in the tent, was the domino; now no more becloaked.

It had limbs, and seemed clad in a scaly mail, lustrous as adragon-beetle's. It was manacled, and its clubbed arms were uplifted,as if, with its manacles, once more to smite its already smittenvictim. One advanced foot of it was inserted beneath the dead body, asif in the act of spurning it.

Uncertainty falls on what now followed.

It were but natural to suppose that the magistrates would, at first,shrink from immediate personal contact with what they saw. At the least,for a time, they would stand in involuntary doubt; it may be, in more orless of horrified alarm. Certain it is, that an arquebuss was called forfrom below. And some add, that its report, followed by a fierce whiz, asof the sudden snapping of a main-spring, with a steely din, as if astack of sword-blades should be dashed upon a pavement, these blendedsounds came ringing to the plain, attracting every eye far upward to thebelfry, whence, through the lattice-work, thin wreaths of smoke werecurling.

Some averred that it was the spaniel, gone mad by fear, which was shot.This, others denied. True it was, the spaniel never more was seen; and,probably, for some unknown reason, it shared the burial now to berelated of the domino. For, whatever the preceding circumstances mayhave been, the first instinctive panic over, or else all ground ofreasonable fear removed, the two magistrates, by themselves, quicklyrehooded the figure in the dropped cloak wherein it had been hoisted.The same night, it was secretly lowered to the ground, smuggled to thebeach, pulled far out to sea, and sunk. Nor to any after urgency, evenin free convivial hours, would the twain ever disclose the full secretsof the belfry.

From the mystery unavoidably investing it, the popular solution of thefoundling's fate involved more or less of supernatural agency. But somefew less unscientific minds pretended to find little difficulty inotherwise accounting for it. In the chain of circumstantial inferencesdrawn, there may, or may not, have been some absent or defective links.But, as the explanation in question is the only one which tradition hasexplicitly preserved, in dearth of better, it will here be given. But,in the first place, it is requisite to present the suppositionentertained as to the entire motive and mode, with their origin, of thesecret design of Bannadonna; the minds above-mentioned assuming topenetrate as well into his soul as into the event. The disclosure willindirectly involve reference to peculiar matters, none of, the clearest,beyond the immediate subject.

At that period, no large bell was made to sound otherwise than as atpresent, by agitation of a tongue within, by means of ropes, orpercussion from without, either from cumbrous machinery, or stalwartwatchmen, armed with heavy hammers, stationed in the belfry, or insentry-boxes on the open roof, according as the bell was sheltered orexposed.

It was from observing these exposed bells, with their watchmen, that thefoundling, as was opined, derived the first suggestion of his scheme.Perched on a great mast or spire, the human figure, viewed from below,undergoes such a reduction in its apparent size, as to obliterate itsintelligent features. It evinces no personality. Instead of bespeakingvolition, its gestures rather resemble the automatic ones of the arms ofa telegraph.

Musing, therefore, upon the purely Punchinello aspect of the humanfigure thus beheld, it had indirectly occurred to Bannadonna to devisesome metallic agent, which should strike the hour with its mechanichand, with even greater precision than the vital one. And, moreover, asthe vital watchman on the roof, sallying from his retreat at the givenperiods, walked to the bell with uplifted mace, to smite it, Bannadonnahad resolved that his invention should likewise possess the power oflocomotion, and, along with that, the appearance, at least, ofintelligence and will.

If the conjectures of those who claimed acquaintance with the intent ofBannadonna be thus far correct, no unenterprising spirit could have beenhis. But they stopped not here; intimating that though, indeed, hisdesign had, in the first place, been prompted by the sight of thewatchman, and confined to the devising of a subtle substitute for him:yet, as is not seldom the case with projectors, by insensiblegradations, proceeding from comparatively pigmy aims to Titanic ones,the original scheme had, in its anticipated eventualities, at last,attained to an unheard of degree of daring.

He still bent his efforts upon the locomotive figure for the belfry, butonly as a partial type of an ulterior creature, a sort of elephantineHelot, adapted to further, in a degree scarcely to be imagined, theuniversal conveniences and glories of humanity; supplying nothing lessthan a supplement to the Six Days' Work; stocking the earth with a newserf, more useful than the ox, swifter than the dolphin, stronger thanthe lion, more cunning than the ape, for industry an ant, more fierythan serpents, and yet, in patience, another ass. All excellences of allGod-made creatures, which served man, were here to receive advancement,and then to be combined in one. Talus was to have been theall-accomplished Helot's name. Talus, iron slave to Bannadonna, and,through him, to man.

Here, it might well be thought that, were these last conjectures as tothe foundling's secrets not erroneous, then must he have been hopelesslyinfected with the craziest chimeras of his age; far outgoing AlbertMagus and Cornelius Agrippa. But the contrary was averred. Howevermarvelous his design, however apparently transcending not alone thebounds of human invention, but those of divine creation, yet theproposed means to be employed were alleged to have been confined withinthe sober forms of sober reason. It was affirmed that, to a degree ofmore than skeptic scorn, Bannadonna had been without sympathy for any ofthe vain-glorious irrationalities of his time. For example, he had notconcluded, with the visionaries among the metaphysicians, that betweenthe finer mechanic forces and the ruder animal vitality some germ ofcorrespondence might prove discoverable. As little did his schemepartake of the enthusiasm of some natural philosophers, who hoped, byphysiological and chemical inductions, to arrive at a knowledge of thesource of life, and so qualify themselves to manufacture and improveupon it. Much less had he aught in common with the tribe of alchemists,who sought, by a species of incantations, to evoke some surprisingvitality from the laboratory. Neither had he imagined, with certainsanguine theosophists, that, by faithful adoration of the Highest,unheard-of powers would be vouchsafed to man. A practical materialist,what Bannadonna had aimed at was to have been reached, not by logic, notby crucible, not by conjuration, not by altars; but by plain vice-benchand hammer. In short, to solve nature, to steal into her, to intriguebeyond her, to procure some one else to bind her to his hand;--these,one and all, had not been his objects; but, asking no favors from anyelement or any being, of himself, to rival her, outstrip her, and ruleher. He stooped to conquer. With him, common sense was theurgy;machinery, miracle; Prometheus, the heroic name for machinist; man, thetrue God.

Nevertheless, in his initial step, so far as the experimental automatonfor the belfry was concerned, he allowed fancy some little play; or,perhaps, what seemed his fancifulness was but his utilitarian ambitioncollaterally extended. In figure, the creature for the belfry should notbe likened after the human pattern, nor any animal one, nor after theideals, however wild, of ancient fable, but equally in aspect as inorganism be an original production; the more terrible to behold, thebetter.

Such, then, were the suppositions as to the present scheme, and thereserved intent. How, at the very threshold, so unlooked for acatastrophe overturned all, or rather, what was the conjecture here, isnow to be set forth.

It was thought that on the day preceding the fatality, his visitorshaving left him, Bannadonna had unpacked the belfry image, adjusted it,and placed it in the retreat provided--a sort of sentry-box in onecorner of the belfry; in short, throughout the night, and for some partof the ensuing morning, he had been engaged in arranging everythingconnected with the domino; the issuing from the sentry-box each sixtyminutes; sliding along a grooved way, like a railway; advancing to theclock-bell, with uplifted manacles; striking it at one of the twelvejunctions of the four-and-twenty hands; then wheeling, circling thebell, and retiring to its post, there to bide for another sixty minutes,when the same process was to be repeated; the bell, by a cunningmechanism, meantime turning on its vertical axis, so as to present, tothe descending mace, the clasped hands of the next two figures, when itwould strike two, three, and so on, to the end. The musical metal inthis time-bell being so managed in the fusion, by some art, perishingwith its originator, that each of the clasps of the four-and-twentyhands should give forth its own peculiar resonance when parted.

But on the magic metal, the magic and metallic stranger never struck butthat one stroke, drove but that one nail, served but that one clasp, bywhich Bannadonna clung to his ambitious life. For, after winding up thecreature in the sentry-box, so that, for the present, skipping theintervening hours, it should not emerge till the hour of one, but shouldthen infallibly emerge, and, after deftly oiling the grooves whereon itwas to slide, it was surmised that the mechanician must then havehurried to the bell, to give his final touches to its sculpture. Trueartist, he here became absorbed; and absorption still furtherintensified, it may be, by his striving to abate that strange look ofUna; which, though, before others, he had treated with such unconcern,might not, in secret, have been without its thorn.

And so, for the interval, he was oblivious of his creature; which, notoblivious of him, and true to its creation, and true to its heedfulwinding up, left its post precisely at the given moment; along itswell-oiled route, slid noiselessly towards its mark; and, aiming at thehand of Una, to ring one clangorous note, dully smote the interveningbrain of Bannadonna, turned backwards to it; the manacled arms theninstantly up-springing to their hovering poise. The falling body cloggedthe thing's return; so there it stood, still impending over Bannadonna,as if whispering some post-mortem terror. The chisel lay dropped fromthe hand, but beside the hand; the oil-flask spilled across the irontrack.

In his unhappy end, not unmindful of the rare genius of the mechanician,the republic decreed him a stately funeral. It was resolved that thegreat bell--the one whose casting had been jeopardized through thetimidity of the ill-starred workman--should be rung upon the entrance ofthe bier into the cathedral. The most robust man of the country roundwas assigned the office of bell-ringer.

But as the pall-bearers entered the cathedral porch, naught but abroken and disastrous sound, like that of some lone Alpine land-slide,fell from the tower upon their ears. And then, all was hushed.

Glancing backwards, they saw the groined belfry crashed sideways in. Itafterwards appeared that the powerful peasant, who had the bell-rope incharge, wishing to test at once the full glory of the bell, had swayeddown upon the rope with one concentrate jerk. The mass of quaking metal,too ponderous for its frame, and strangely feeble somewhere at its top,loosed from its fastening, tore sideways down, and tumbling in one sheerfall, three hundred feet to the soft sward below, buried itself invertedand half out of sight.

Upon its disinterment, the main fracture was found to have started froma small spot in the ear; which, being scraped, revealed a defect,deceptively minute in the casting; which defect must subsequently havebeen pasted over with some unknown compound.

The remolten metal soon reassumed its place in the tower's repairedsuperstructure. For one year the metallic choir of birds sang musicallyin its belfry-bough-work of sculptured blinds and traceries. But on thefirst anniversary of the tower's completion--at early dawn, before theconcourse had surrounded it--an earthquake came; one loud crash washeard. The stone-pine, with all its bower of songsters, lay overthrownupon the plain.

So the blind slave obeyed its blinder lord; but, in obedience, slew him.So the creator was killed by the creature. So the bell was too heavy forthe tower. So the bell's main weakness was where man's blood had flawedit. And so pride went before the fall.


facebook share button twitter share button reddit share button share on pinterest pinterest

Add The Bell-Tower to your library.

Return to the Herman Melville library , or . . . Read the next short story; The Chase

© 2022