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What The Bells Saw And Said
by [?]

[Written in 1867.]

“Bells ring others to church, but go not in themselves.”

No one saw the spirits of the bells up there in the old steeple at midnight on Christmas Eve. Six quaint figures, each wrapped in a shadowy cloak and wearing a bell-shaped cap. All were gray-headed, for they were among the oldest bell-spirits of the city, and “the light of other days” shone in their thoughtful eyes. Silently they sat, looking down on the snow-covered roofs glittering in the moonlight, and the quiet streets deserted by all but the watchmen on their chilly rounds, and such poor souls as wandered shelterless in the winter night. Presently one of the spirits said, in a tone, which, low as it was, filled the belfry with reverberating echoes,–

“Well, brothers, are your reports ready of the year that now lies dying?”

All bowed their heads, and one of the oldest answered in a sonorous voice:–

“My report isn’t all I could wish. You know I look down on the commercial part of our city and have fine opportunities for seeing what goes on there. It’s my business to watch the business men, and upon my word I’m heartily ashamed of them sometimes. During the war they did nobly, giving their time and money, their sons and selves to the good cause, and I was proud of them. But now too many of them have fallen back into the old ways, and their motto seems to be, ‘Every one for himself, and the devil take the hindmost.’ Cheating, lying and stealing are hard words, and I don’t mean to apply them to all who swarm about below there like ants on an ant-hill–they have other names for these things, but I’m old-fashioned and use plain words. There’s a deal too much dishonesty in the world, and business seems to have become a game of hazard in which luck, not labor, wins the prize. When I was young, men were years making moderate fortunes, and were satisfied with them. They built them on sure foundations, knew how to enjoy them while they lived, and to leave a good name behind them when they died.

“Now it’s anything for money; health, happiness, honor, life itself, are flung down on that great gaming-table, and they forget everything else in the excitement of success or the desperation of defeat. Nobody seems satisfied either, for those who win have little time or taste to enjoy their prosperity, and those who lose have little courage or patience to support them in adversity. They don’t even fail as they used to. In my day when a merchant found himself embarrassed he didn’t ruin others in order to save himself, but honestly confessed the truth, gave up everything, and began again. But now-a-days after all manner of dishonorable shifts there comes a grand crash; many suffer, but by some hocus-pocus the merchant saves enough to retire upon and live comfortably here or abroad. It’s very evident that honor and honesty don’t mean now what they used to mean in the days of old May, Higginson and Lawrence.

“They preach below here, and very well too sometimes, for I often slide down the rope to peep and listen during service. But, bless you! they don’t seem to lay either sermon, psalm or prayer to heart, for while the minister is doing his best, the congregation, tired with the breathless hurry of the week, sleep peacefully, calculate their chances for the morrow, or wonder which of their neighbors will lose or win in the great game. Don’t tell me! I’ve seen them do it, and if I dared I’d have startled every soul of them with a rousing peal. Ah, they don’t dream whose eye is on them, they never guess what secrets the telegraph wires tell as the messages fly by, and little know what a report I give to the winds of heaven as I ring out above them morning, noon, and night.” And the old spirit shook his head till the tassel on his cap jangled like a little bell.