The Bell Tower by Herman Melville
In the south of Europe, nigh a once frescoed
capital, now with dank mould cankering its
bloom, central in a plain, stands what, at distance,
seems the black mossed stump of some
immeasurable pine, fallen, in forgotten days,
with Anak and the Titan.
As all along where the pine tree falls, its
dissolution leaves a mossy mound—last-flung
shadow of the perished trunk; never lengthening,
never lessening; unsubject to the fleet
falsities of the sun; shade immutable, and true
gauge which cometh by prostration—so westward
from what seems the stump, one steadfast
spear of lichened ruin veins the plain.
From that tree-top, what birded chimes of
silver throats had rung. A stone pine; a metallic
aviary in its crown: the Bell-Tower,
built by the great mechanician, the unblest
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 dried
up, and once more the green appeared. No
wonder that, after so long and deep submersion,
the jubilant expectation of the race should, as
with Noah'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 lived voted to have the noblest
Bell-Tower in Italy. His repute assigned him
to 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 its ever-ascending summit,
at close of every day, saw that he overtopped
still higher walls and trees. He would tarry
till a late hour there, wrapped in schemes of
other and still loftier piles. Those who of saints'
days thronged the spot—hanging to the rude
poles of scaffolding, like sailors on yards, or
bees on boughs, unmindful of lime and dust,
and falling chips of stone—their homage not
the less inspirited him to self-esteem.
At length the holiday of the Tower came.
To the sound of viols, the climax-stone slowly
rose in air, and, amid the firing of ordnance,
was laid by Bannadonna's hands upon the final
course. Then mounting it, he stood erect,
alone, with folded arms, gazing upon the white
summits of blue inland Alps, and whiter crests
of bluer Alps off-shore—sights invisible from
the plain. Invisible, too, from thence was that
eye he turned below, when, like the cannon
booms, came up to him the people's combustions
That which stirred them so was, seeing with
what serenity the builder stood three hundred
feet in air, upon an unrailed perch. This none
but he durst do. But his periodic standing
upon the pile, in each stage of its growth—such
discipline had its last result.
Little remained now but the bells. These,
in all respects, must correspond 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 the clock-work,
also executed at the time, will, in the sequel,
In the one erection, bell-tower and clock-tower
were united, though, before that period,
such structures had commonly been built distinct;
as the 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 more daring skill. In vain
did some of the less elated magistrates here
caution him; saying that though truly the
tower was Titanic, yet limit should be set to
the dependent weight of its swaying masses.
But undeterred, he prepared his mammoth
mould, dented with mythological devices; kindled
his fires of balsamic firs; melted his tin
and copper, and, throwing in much plate, contributed
by the public spirit of the nobles, let
loose the tide.
The unleashed metals bayed like hounds.
The workmen shrunk. Through their fright,
fatal harm to the bell was dreaded. Fearless
as Shadrach, Bannadonna, rushing through the
glow, smote the chief culprit with his ponderous
ladle. From the smitten part, a splinter was
dashed into the seething mass, and at once was
Next day a portion of the work was heedfully
uncovered. All seemed right. Upon the
third morning, with equal satisfaction, it was
bared still lower. At length, like some old
Theban king, the whole cooled casting was disinterred.
All was fair except in one strange
spot. But as he suffered no one to attend him
in these inspections, he concealed the blemish
by some preparation which none knew better
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
was overlooked. By the charitable that
deed was but imputed to sudden transports of
esthetic passion, not to any flagitious quality.
A kick from 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 republic witnessed the
hoisting of the bells and clock-work amid
shows and pomps superior to the former.
Some months of more than usual solitude on
Bannadonna's part ensued. It was not unknown
that he was engaged upon something for the
belfry, intended to complete it, and surpass all
that had gone before. Most people imagined
that the design would involve a casting like the
bells. But those who thought they had some
further insight, would shake their heads, with
hints, that not for nothing did the mechanician
keep so secret. Meantime, his seclusion failed
not to invest his work with more or less of that
sort of mystery pertaining to the forbidden.
Ere long he had a heavy object hoisted to the
belfry, wrapped in a dark sack or cloak—a procedure
sometimes had in the case of an elaborate
piece of sculpture, or statue, which, being intended
to grace the front of a new edifice, the
architect does not desire exposed to critical
eyes, till set up, finished, in its appointed place.
Such was the impression now. But, as the
object rose, a statuary present observed, or
thought 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 the belfry, as if with little
assistance from the crane, a shrewd old blacksmith
present ventured the suspicion that it
was but a living man. This surmise was thought
a foolish one, while the general interest failed
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 up the 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 glanced
toward the cloaked object, which, to their
surprise, seemed now to have changed its attitude,
or else had before been more perplexingly
concealed by the violent muffling action of the
wind without. It seemed now seated upon
some sort of frame, or chair, contained within
the domino. They observed that nigh the top,
in a sort of square, the web of the cloth, either
from accident or design, had its warp partly
withdrawn, and the cross threads plucked out
here and there, so as to form a sort of woven
grating. Whether it were the low wind or no,
stealing through the stone lattice-work, or only
their own perturbed imaginations, is uncertain,
but they thought they discerned a slight sort
of fitful, spring-like motion, in the domino.
Nothing, however incidental or insignificant,
escaped their uneasy eyes. Among other things,
they pried out, in a corner, an earthen cup,
partly corroded and partly encrusted, and one
whispered to the other, that this cup was just
such a one as might, in mockery, be offered to
the lips of some brazen statue, or, perhaps, still
But, being questioned, the mechanician said,
that the cup was simply used in his founder's
business, and described the purpose; in short,
a cup to test the condition of metals in fusion.
He added, that it had got into the belfry by
the merest chance.
Again, and again, they gazed at the domino,
as at some suspicious incognito at a Venetian
mask. All sorts of vague apprehensions stirred
them. They even dreaded lest, when they
should descend, the mechanician, though without
a flesh and blood companion, for all that,
would not be left alone.
Affecting some merriment at their disquietude,
he begged to relieve them, by extending a coarse
sheet of workman's canvas between them and
Meantime he sought to interest them in his
other work; nor, now that the domino was out
of sight, did they long remain insensible to the
artistic wonders lying round them; wonders
hitherto beheld but in their unfinished state;
because, since hoisting the bells, none but the
caster had entered within the belfry. It was
one trait of his, that, even in details, he would
not let another do what he could, without too
great loss of time, accomplish for himself. So,
for several preceding weeks, whatever hours
were unemployed in his secret design, had been
devoted to elaborating the figures on the bells.
The clock-bell, in particular, now drew attention.
Under a patient chisel, the latent beauty
of its enrichments, before obscured by the cloudings
incident to casting, that beauty in its shyest
grace, was now revealed. Round and round
the bell, twelve figures of gay girls, garlanded,
hand-in-hand, danced in a choral ring—the embodied
"Bannadonna," said the chief, "this bell excels
all else. No added touch could here improve.
Hark!" hearing a sound, "was that
"The wind, Excellenza," was the light response.
"But the figures, they are not yet without
their faults. They need some touches yet.
When those are given, and the—block yonder,"
pointing towards the canvas screen,
"when Haman there, as I merrily call him,—him?
it, I mean—when Haman is fixed on
this, his lofty tree, then, gentlemen, will I be
most happy to receive you here again."
The equivocal reference to the object caused
some return of restlessness. However, on their
part, the visitors forbore further allusion to it,
unwilling, perhaps, to let the foundling see how
easily it lay within his plebeian art to stir the
placid dignity of nobles.
"Well, Bannadonna," said the chief, "how
long ere you are ready to set the clock going,
so that the hour shall be sounded? Our interest
in you, not less than in the work itself, makes
us anxious to be assured of your success. The
people, too,—why, they are shouting now. Say
the exact hour when you will be ready."
"To-morrow, Excellenza, if you listen for it,—or
should you not, all the same—strange
music will be heard. The stroke of one shall
be the first from yonder bell," pointing to the
bell adorned with girls and garlands, "that
stroke shall fall there, where the hand of Una
clasps Dua's. The stroke of one shall sever
that loved clasp. To-morrow, then, at one
o'clock, as struck here, precisely here," advancing
and placing his finger upon the clasp, "the
poor mechanic will be most happy once more
to give you liege audience, in this his littered
shop. Farewell till then, illustrious magnificoes,
and hark ye for your vassal's stroke."
His still, Vulcanic face hiding its burning
brightness like a forge, he moved with ostentatious
deference towards the scuttle, as if so far
to escort their exit. But the junior magistrate,
a kind-hearted man, troubled at what seemed
to him a certain sardonical disdain, lurking beneath
the foundling's humble mien, and in
Christian sympathy more distressed at it on his
account than on his own, dimly surmising what
might be the final fate of such a cynic solitaire,
nor perhaps uninfluenced by the general strangeness
of surrounding things, this good magistrate
had glanced sadly, sideways from the speaker,
and thereupon his foreboding eye had started
at the expression of the unchanging face of the
"How is this, Bannadonna?" he lowly asked,
"Una looks unlike her sisters."
"In Christ's name, Bannadonna," impulsively
broke in the chief, his attention, for the first
attracted to the figure, by his associate's remark,
"Una's face looks just like that of Deborah, the
prophetess, as painted by the Florentine, Del
"Surely, Bannadonna," lowly resumed the
milder magistrate, "you meant the twelve
should wear the same jocundly abandoned air.
But see, the smile of Una seems but a fatal one.
While his mild associate was speaking, the
chief glanced, inquiringly, from him to the caster,
as if anxious to mark how the discrepancy
would be accounted for. As the chief stood,
his advanced foot was on the scuttle's curb.
"Excellenza, now that, following your keener
eye, I glance upon the face of Una, I do, indeed
perceive some little variance. But look all
round the bell, and you will find no two faces
entirely correspond. Because there is a law in
art—but the cold wind is rising more; these
lattices are but a poor defense. Suffer me,
magnificoes, to conduct you, at least, partly on
your way. Those in whose well-being there is
a public stake, should be heedfully attended."
"Touching the look of Una, you were saying,
Bannadonna, that there was a certain law
in art," observed the chief, as the three now
descended the stone shaft, "pray, tell me,
"Pardon; another time, Excellenza;—the
tower is damp."
"Nay, I must rest, and hear it now. Here,—here
is a wide landing, and through this leeward
slit, no wind, but ample light. Tell us of
your law; and at large."
"Since, Excellenza, you insist, know that
there is a law in art, which bars the possibility
of duplicates. Some years ago, you may remember,
I graved a small seal for your republic,
bearing, for its chief device, the head of your
own ancestor, its illustrious founder. It becoming
necessary, for the customs' use, to have
innumerable impressions for bales and boxes, I
graved an entire plate, containing one hundred
of the seals. Now, though, indeed, my object
was to have those hundred heads identical, and
though, I dare say, people think them; so, yet,
upon closely scanning an uncut impression from
the plate, no two of those five-score faces, side
by side, will be found alike. Gravity is the air
of all; but, diversified in all. In some, benevolent;
in some, ambiguous; in two or three, to
a close scrutiny, all but incipiently malign, the
variation of less than a hair's breadth in the
linear shadings round the mouth sufficing to all
this. Now, Excellenza, transmute that general
gravity into joyousness, and subject it to twelve
of those variations I have described, and tell
me, will you not have my hours 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 the arch where the stonework
was left undressed. I must have it seen
to. As I was about to say: for one, I like this
law forbidding duplicates. It evokes fine personalities.
Yes, Excellenza, that strange, and—to
you—uncertain smile, and those fore-looking
eyes of Una, suit Bannadonna very well."
"Hark!—sure we left no soul above?"
"No soul, Excellenza; rest assured, no soul—Again
"It fell not while we were there."
"Ah, in your presence, it better knew its
place, Excellenza," blandly bowed Bannadonna.
"But, Una," said the milder magistrate, "she
seemed intently gazing on you; one would
have almost sworn that she picked you out
from among us three."
"If she did, possibly, it might have been her
finer apprehension, Excellenza."
"How, Bannadonna? I do not understand
"No consequence, no consequence, Excellenza—but
the shifted wind is blowing 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 the third landing, the two
now went down unescorted, "but, somehow,
our great mechanician moves me strangely.
Why, just now, when he so superciliously replied,
his walk seemed Sisera's, God's vain foe,
in Del Fonca's painting. And that young,
sculptured Deborah, too. Ay, and that—."
"Tush, tush, Signor!" returned the chief.
"A passing whim. Deborah?—Where's Jael,
"Ah," said the other, as they now stepped
upon the sod, "Ah, Signor, I see you leave
your fears behind you with the chill and gloom;
but mine, even in this sunny air, remain,
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 is his custom."
Proclamation was now made, that the next
day, at one hour after meridian, the clock
would strike, and—thanks to the mechanician's
powerful art—with unusual accompaniments.
But what those should be, none as yet could
say. The announcement was received with
By the looser sort, who encamped about the
tower all night, lights were seen gleaming
through the topmost blind-work, only disappearing
with the morning sun. Strange sounds,
too, were heard, or were thought to be, by
those whom anxious watching might not have
left mentally undisturbed—sounds, not only of
some ringing implement, but also—so they
said—half-suppressed screams and plainings,
such as might have issued from some ghostly
Slowly the day drew on; part of the concourse
chasing the weary time with songs and
games, till, at last, the great blurred sun rolled,
like a football, against the plain.
At noon, the nobility and principal citizens
came from the town in cavalcade, a guard of
soldiers, also, with music, the more to honor
Only one hour more. Impatience grew.
Watches were held in hands of feverish men,
who stood, now scrutinizing their small dial-plates,
and then, with neck thrown back,
gazing toward the belfry, as if the eye might
foretell that which could only be made sensible
to the ear; for, as yet, there was no dial to the
The hour hands of a thousand watches now
verged within a hair's breadth of the figure 1.
A silence, as of the expectation of some Shiloh,
pervaded the swarming plain. Suddenly a
dull, mangled sound—naught ringing in it;
scarcely audible, indeed, to the outer circles of
the people—that dull sound dropped heavily
from the belfry. At the same moment, each
man stared at his neighbor blankly. All
watches were upheld. All hour-hands were
at—had passed—the figure 1. No bell-stroke
from the tower. The multitude became tumultuous.
Waiting a few moments, the chief magistrate,
commanding silence, hailed the belfry, to
know what thing unforeseen had happened
He hailed again and yet again.
All continued hushed.
By his order, the soldiers burst in the tower-door;
when, stationing guards to defend it from
the now surging mob, the chief, accompanied
by his former associate, climbed the winding
stairs. Half-way up, they stopped 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 as before some unknown monster
in a brake: or, rather, as if it snuffed footsteps
leading to some other world.
Bannadonna lay, prostrate and bleeding, at
the base of the bell which was 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 by the hour
Dua. With downcast face impending over
him, like Jael over nailed Sisera in the tent,
was the domino; now no more becloaked.
It had limbs, and seemed clad in a scaly
mail, lustrous as a dragon-beetle's. It was
manacled, and its clubbed arms were uplifted,
as if, with its manacles, once more to smite its
already smitten victim. One advanced foot of
it was inserted beneath the dead body, as if 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 or less
of horrified alarm. Certain it is, that an arquebuss
was called for from below. And some
add, that its report, followed by a fierce whiz,
as of the sudden snapping of a main-spring,
with a steely din, as if a stack of sword-blades
should be dashed upon a pavement, these
blended sounds came ringing to the plain, attracting
every eye far upward to the belfry,
whence, through the lattice-work, thin wreaths
of smoke were curling.
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 be related
of the domino. For, whatever the preceding
circumstances may have been, the first instinctive
panic over, or else all ground of reasonable
fear removed, the two magistrates, by themselves,
quickly rehooded the figure in the
dropped cloak wherein it had been hoisted.
The same night, it was secretly lowered to the
ground, smuggled to the beach, pulled far out
to sea, and sunk. Nor to any after urgency,
even in free convivial hours, would the twain
ever disclose the full secrets of the belfry.
From the mystery unavoidably investing it,
the popular solution of the foundling's fate
involved more or less of supernatural agency.
But some few less unscientific minds pretended
to find little difficulty in otherwise accounting
for it. In the chain of circumstantial inferences
drawn, there may, or may not, have
been some absent or defective links. But, as
the explanation in question is the only one
which tradition has explicitly preserved, in
dearth of better, it will here be given. But, in
the first place, it is requisite to present the
supposition entertained as to the entire motive
and mode, with their origin, of the secret design
of Bannadonna; the minds above-mentioned
assuming to penetrate as well into his
soul as into the event. The disclosure will
indirectly involve reference to peculiar matters,
none of, the clearest, beyond the immediate
At that period, no large bell was made to
sound otherwise than as at present, by agitation
of a tongue within, by means of ropes, or
percussion from without, either from cumbrous
machinery, or stalwart watchmen, armed with
heavy hammers, stationed in the belfry, or in
sentry-boxes on the open roof, according as the
bell was sheltered or exposed.
It was from observing these exposed bells,
with their watchmen, that the foundling, 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 its intelligent features. It evinces
no personality. Instead of bespeaking volition,
its gestures rather resemble the automatic ones
of the arms of a telegraph.
Musing, therefore, upon the purely Punchinello
aspect of the human figure thus beheld, it
had indirectly occurred to Bannadonna to devise
some metallic agent, which should strike
the hour with its mechanic hand, with even
greater precision than the vital one. And,
moreover, as the vital watchman on the roof,
sallying from his retreat at the given periods,
walked to the bell with uplifted mace, to smite
it, Bannadonna had resolved that his invention
should likewise possess the power of locomotion,
and, along with that, the appearance, at
least, of intelligence and will.
If the conjectures of those who claimed acquaintance
with the intent of Bannadonna be
thus far correct, no unenterprising spirit could
have been his. But they stopped not here;
intimating that though, indeed, his design had,
in the first place, been prompted by the sight
of the watchman, and confined to the devising
of a subtle substitute for him: yet, as is not
seldom the case with projectors, by insensible
gradations, 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, but only as a partial type
of an ulterior creature, a sort of elephantine
Helot, adapted to further, in a degree scarcely
to be imagined, the universal conveniences and
glories of humanity; supplying nothing less
than a supplement to the Six Days' Work;
stocking the earth with a new serf, more useful
than the ox, swifter than the dolphin, stronger
than the lion, more cunning than the ape, for
industry an ant, more fiery than serpents, and
yet, in patience, another ass. All excellences
of all God-made creatures, which served man,
were here to receive advancement, and then to
be combined in one. Talus was to have been
the all-accomplished Helot's name. Talus, iron
slave to Bannadonna, and, through him, to
Here, it might well be thought that, were
these last conjectures as to the foundling's
secrets not erroneous, then must he have been
hopelessly infected with the craziest chimeras
of his age; far outgoing Albert Magus and Cornelius
Agrippa. But the contrary was averred.
However marvelous his design, however apparently
transcending not alone the bounds of
human invention, but those of divine creation,
yet the proposed means to be employed were
alleged to have been confined within the sober
forms of sober reason. It was affirmed that, to
a degree of more than skeptic scorn, Bannadonna
had been without sympathy for any of
the vain-glorious irrationalities of his time.
For example, he had not concluded, with the
visionaries among the metaphysicians, that between
the finer mechanic forces and the ruder
animal vitality some germ of correspondence
might prove discoverable. As little did his
scheme partake of the enthusiasm of some
natural philosophers, who hoped, by physiological
and chemical inductions, to arrive at a
knowledge of the source of life, and so qualify
themselves to manufacture and improve upon
it. Much less had he aught in common with
the tribe of alchemists, who sought, by a species
of incantations, to evoke some surprising
vitality from the laboratory. Neither had he
imagined, with certain sanguine 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, not by crucible, not by conjuration, not
by altars; but by plain vice-bench and hammer.
In short, to solve nature, to steal into her, to
intrigue beyond 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 any element or any being, of himself,
to rival her, outstrip her, and rule her. He
stooped to conquer. With him, common sense
was theurgy; machinery, miracle; Prometheus,
the heroic name for machinist; man, the true
Nevertheless, in his initial step, so far as the
experimental automaton for the belfry was concerned,
he allowed fancy some little play; or,
perhaps, what seemed his fancifulness was but
his utilitarian ambition collaterally extended.
In figure, the creature for the belfry should not
be likened after the human pattern, nor any
animal one, nor after the ideals, however wild,
of ancient fable, but equally in aspect as in
organism be an original production; the more
terrible to behold, the better.
Such, then, were the suppositions as to the
present scheme, and the reserved intent. How,
at the very threshold, so unlooked for a catastrophe
overturned all, or rather, what was the
conjecture here, is now to be set forth.
It was thought that on the day preceding the
fatality, his visitors having left him, Bannadonna
had unpacked the belfry image, adjusted it, and
placed it in the retreat provided—a sort of
sentry-box in one corner of the belfry; in short,
throughout the night, and for some part of the
ensuing morning, he had been engaged in arranging
everything connected with the domino;
the issuing from the sentry-box each sixty
minutes; sliding along a grooved way, like a
railway; advancing to the clock-bell, with uplifted
manacles; striking it at one of the twelve
junctions of the four-and-twenty hands; then
wheeling, circling the bell, and retiring to its
post, there to bide for another sixty minutes,
when the same process was to be repeated; the
bell, by a cunning mechanism, meantime turning
on its vertical axis, so as to present, to the
descending mace, the clasped hands of the next
two figures, when it would strike two, three,
and so on, to the end. The musical metal in
this time-bell being so managed in the fusion,
by some art, perishing with its originator, that
each of the clasps of the four-and-twenty hands
should give forth its own peculiar resonance
But on the magic metal, the magic and metallic
stranger never struck but that one stroke,
drove but that one nail, served but that one
clasp, by which Bannadonna clung to his ambitious
life. For, after winding up the creature
in the sentry-box, so that, for the present,
skipping the intervening hours, it should not
emerge till the hour of one, but should then
infallibly emerge, and, after deftly oiling the
grooves whereon it was to slide, it was surmised
that the mechanician must then have hurried to
the bell, to give his final touches to its sculpture.
True artist, he here became absorbed; and absorption
still further intensified, it may be, by
his striving to abate that strange look of Una;
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, not oblivious of him, and
true to its creation, and true to its heedful
winding up, left its post precisely at the given
moment; along its well-oiled route, slid noiselessly
towards its mark; and, aiming at the
hand of Una, to ring one clangorous note, dully
smote the intervening brain of Bannadonna,
turned backwards to it; the manacled arms
then instantly up-springing to their hovering
poise. The falling body clogged the thing's
return; so there it stood, still impending over
Bannadonna, as if whispering some post-mortem
terror. The chisel lay dropped from the hand,
but beside the hand; the oil-flask spilled across
the iron track.
In his unhappy end, not unmindful of the
rare genius of the mechanician, the republic
decreed him a stately funeral. It was resolved
that the great bell—the one whose casting had
been jeopardized through the timidity of the
ill-starred workman—should be rung upon the
entrance of the bier into the cathedral. The
most robust man of the country round was
assigned the office of bell-ringer.
But as the pall-bearers entered the cathedral
porch, naught but a broken and disastrous sound,
like that of some lone Alpine land-slide, fell
from the tower upon their ears. And then, all
Glancing backwards, they saw the groined
belfry crashed sideways in. It afterwards appeared
that the powerful peasant, who had the
bell-rope in charge, wishing to test at once
the full glory of the bell, had swayed down
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 sheer fall, three
hundred feet to the soft sward below, buried
itself inverted and half out of sight.
Upon its disinterment, the main fracture was
found to have started from a small spot in the
ear; which, being scraped, revealed a defect,
deceptively minute in the casting; which defect
must subsequently have been pasted over
with some unknown compound.
The remolten metal soon reassumed its place
in the tower's repaired superstructure. For
one year the metallic choir of birds sang musically
in its belfry-bough-work of sculptured
blinds and traceries. But on the first anniversary
of the tower's completion—at early dawn,
before the concourse had surrounded it—an
earthquake came; one loud crash was heard.
The stone-pine, with all its bower of songsters,
lay overthrown upon 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 for the tower. So the bell's main
weakness was where man's blood had flawed
it. And so pride went before the fall.