638 THE BELL-DEEP
gardens, each different from the rest, some with pretty flowers and bowers like little dolls' pleasure grounds, others displaying only cabbage and other kitchen plants ; and here and there the gardens cannot be seen at all, for the great elder trees that spread themselves out by the bank, and hang far out over the streaming waters, which are deeper here and there than an oar can fathom. Opposite the old nunnery is the deepest place, which is called the
* bell-deep', and there dwells the ' River-man '. He sleeps through the day while the sun shines down upon the water ; but in starry and moonlit nights he shows himself. He is very old : grandmother says that she has heard her own grandmother tell of him ; he is said to lead a solitary life, and to have nobody with whom he can converse save the great old church Bell. Once the Bell hung in the church tower ; but now there is no trace left of the tower or of the church, which was called St. Alban's.
' Ding-dong ! ding-dong !' sounded the Bell, when the tower still stood there ; and one evening, while the sun was setting, and the Bell was swinging away bravely, it broke loose and came flying down through the air, the brilliant metal shining in the ruddy beam.
' Ding-dong ! ding-dong ! Now I'm going to bed ! ' sang the Bell, and flew down into the Odense River where it is deepest; and that is why the place is called the
But the Bell got neither rest nor sleep. Down in the River-man's haunt it sounds and rings, so that the tones sometimes pierce upward through the waters ; and many people maintain that its strains forebode the death of some one ; but that is not true, for then the Bell is only talking with the River-man, who is now no longer alone.
And what is the Bell telling ? It is old, very old, the story goes ; it was there long before grandmother's grandmother was born ; and yet it is but a child in comparison with the River-man, who is an old quiet personage, an oddity, with his hose of eel-skin, and his scaly jacket with the yellow lilies for buttons, and a wreath of reed in his hair and duckweed in his beard, and that is not very pretty.
What the Bell tells ? To repeat it all would require years and days ; for year by year it is telling the old stories,