Hans Christian Andersen
The Old House
PEOPLE said "The Evening Bell is sounding, the sun is setting." For a strange wondrous tone was heard in the narrow streets of a large town. It was like the sound of a church-bell: but it was only heard for a moment, for the rolling of the carriages and the voices of the multitude made too great a noise.
Those persons who were walking outside the town, where the houses were farther apart, with gardens or little fields between them, could see the evening sky still better, and heard the sound of the bell much more distinctly. It was as if the tones came from a church in the still forest; people looked thitherward, and felt their minds attuned most solemnly.
A long time passed, and people said to each other--"I
wonder if there is a church out in the wood? The bell has a tone that
is wondrous sweet; let us stroll thither, and examine the matter nearer."
And the rich people drove out, and the poor walked, but the way seemed
strangely long to them; and when they came to a clump of willows which
grew on the skirts of the forest, they sat
Many persons now went to the wood, for the sake of getting
the place, but one only returned with a sort of explanation; for nobody
went far enough, that one not further than the others. However, he said
that the sound proceeded from a very large owl, in a hollow tree; a sort
of learned owl, that continually knocked its head against the branches.
But whether the sound came from
It was the day of confirmation. The clergyman had spoken
so touchingly, the children who were confirmed had been greatly moved;
it was an eventful day for them; from children they become all at once
grown-up-persons; it was as if their infant souls were now to fly all
at once into persons with more understanding. The sun was shining gloriously;
the children that had been confirmed went out of the town; and from the
wood was borne towards them the sounds of the unknown bell with wonderful
distinctness. They all immediately felt a wish to go thither; all except
three. One of them had to go home to try
There were three, therefore, that did not go; the others hastened on. The sun shone, the birds sang, and the children sang too, and each held the other by the hand; for as yet they had none of them any high office, and were all of equal rank in the eye of God.
But two of the youngest soon grew tired, and both returned to town; two little girls sat down, and twined garlands, so they did not go either; and when the others reached the willow-tree, where the confectioner was, they said, "Now we are there! In reality the bell does not exist; it is only a fancy that people have taken into their heads!"
At the same moment the bell sounded deep in the wood,
so clear and solemnly that five or six determined to penetrate somewhat
further. It was so thick, and the foliage so dense, that it was quite
fatiguing to proceed. Woodroof and anemonies grew almost too high; blooming
convolvuluses and blackberry-bushes hung in long garlands from tree to
tree, where the nightingale sang and the
"That surely cannot be the bell," said one of the children, lying down and listening. "This must be looked to." So he remained, and let the others go on without him.
They afterwards came to a little house, made of branches and the bark of trees; a large wild apple-tree bent over it, as if it would shower down all its blessings on the roof, where roses were blooming. The long stems twined round the gable, on which there hung a small bell.
Was it that which people had heard? Yes, everybody was
unanimous on the subject, except one, who said that the bell was too small
and too fine to be heard at so great a distance, and besides it was very
different tones to those that could move a human heart in such a manner.
It was a king's son who spoke;
They now let him go on alone; and as he went, his breast was filled more and more with the forest solitude; but he still heard the little bell with which the others were so satisfied, and now and then, when the wind blew, he could also hear the people singing who were sitting at tea where the confectioner had his tent; but the deep sound of the bell rose louder; it was almost as if an organ were accompanying it, and the tones came from the left hand, the side where the heart is placed. A rustling was heard in the bushes, and a little boy stood before the King's Son, a boy in wooden shoes, and with so short a jacket that one could see what long wrists he had. Both knew each other: the boy was that one among the children who could not come because he had to go home and return his jacket and boots to the innkeeper's son. This he had done, and was now going on in wooden shoes and in his humble dress, for the bell sounded with so deep a tone, and with such strange power, that proceed he must.
"Why, then, we can go together," said the King's Son. But the poor child that had been confirmed was quite ashamed; he looked at his wooden shoes, pulled at the short sleeves of his jacket, and said that he was afraid he could not walk so fast; besides, he thought that the bell must be looked for to the right; for that was the place where all sorts of beautiful things were to be found.
"But there we shall not meet," said the King's
Son, nodding at the same time to the poor boy, who went into the darkest,
thickest part of the wood, where thorns tore his humble dress, and scratched
his face and hands and feet till they bled. The King's Son got some scratches
too; but the sun shone on his path, and it is him that we will follow,
for he was an excellent and resolute
"I must and will find the bell," said he, "even if I am obliged to go to the end of the world."
The ugly apes sat upon the trees, and grinned. "Shall we thrash him?" said they. "Shall we thrash him? He is the son of a king!"
But on he went, without being disheartened, deeper and
deeper into the wood, where the most wonderful flowers were growing. There
stood white lilies with blood-red stamina, skyblue tulips, which shone
as they waved in the winds, and apple-trees, the apples of which looked
exactly like large soapbubbles: so only think how the trees must have
sparkled in the sunshine! Around the nicest green meads, where the deer
were playing in the grass, grew magnificent oaks and beeches; and if the
bark of one of the trees was cracked, there grass and long creeping plants
grew in the crevices. And there were large calm lakes there too, in which
white swans were swimming, and beat the air with their wings. The King's
Son often stood still and listened. He thought the bell
The sun now set: the atmosphere glowed like fire. It was still in the woods, so very still; and he fell on his knees, sung his evening hymn, and said: "I cannot find what I seek; the sun is going down, and night is coming--the dark, dark night. Yet perhaps I may be able once more to see the round red sun before he entirely disappears. I will climb up yonder rock."
And he seized hold of the creeping-plants, and the roots
of trees--climbed up the moist stones where the water-snakes were writhing
and the toads were croaking--and he gained the summit before the sun had
quite gone down. How magnificent was the sight from this height! The sea--the
great, the glorious sea, that dashed its long waves against the coast--was
stretched out before him. And yonder, where sea and sky meet, stood the
sun, like a large shining altar, all melted together in the most glowing
colors. And the wood and the sea sang a song of rejoicing, and his heart
sang with the rest: all nature was a vast holy church, in which the trees
and the buoyant clouds were the pillars, flowers and grass the velvet
carpeting, and heaven itself the large cupola. The red colors above faded
away as the sun vanished, but a million
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