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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 10, 2006

You rang? For hooves the bell tolls

Adapted by Amy Friedman

Jillian Gilliland

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"The Bell of Atri" is a tale from Italy.

Long ago, there was a king in Italy who was known for his goodness and wisdom. One day, he purchased a great bell to hang in a tower in the village square.

All the villagers gathered round, admiring the shimmer of the silver bell in the sunlight. "Oh, it will sound lovely, don't you think?" the villagers exclaimed.

The king stepped forward. "People," he announced, "this is your bell!"

The people cheered.

"But listen closely," the king went on. "You must ring this bell only when you have been wronged. When you ring it, our judges will gather in this square to hear your case."

"Children too?" one young boy called.

"Children too," said the king. "Rich and poor, young or old, male or female, all of you deserve justice."

From the bell of Atri, the king hung a long, thick rope that reached to the ground so that everyone even the littlest child could ring that bell.

For years the king's plan worked. Whenever the judges heard the bell, they gathered in the square to hear the case. The judges punished those who did wrong, and they instructed that the wrongs be righted.

After a while, whenever people thought to steal or lie, the memory of the sound of that bell and the justice that followed would change their mind. As time went by, the bell rang less and less often, for the people became more honest and generous, more upright and truthful.

Eventually the rope that hung from the silver bell began to fray. The rope was too high for the children to reach, and the judges gathered to repair it. But they had no hemp, so a young man from the village offered to help. "I have a bundle of hay. It could be braided into a rope," he said, and this they did.

A few days later, on a lazy afternoon, most of the townspeople were resting peacefully, enjoying the warm breezes wafting through the village and inhaling the sweet scents of spring. Suddenly the bell began to ring and ring, shattering the peace and startling the villagers out of their siesta.

Everyone rushed to the town square to see who could be in such trouble. But they were stunned to see only an old nearly blind horse, lame and bony. He was trying to eat the hay that hung from the bell rope, and in struggling to do this, he was ringing the bell.

Naturally the judges came, too, and the first judge bellowed, "Whose horse is this?"

"And why is he here?" thundered the second judge.

"The owner must step forward at once," the third judge growled.

Everyone looked around, and shook their heads, for they all knew the owner was the miserly man who lived in the mansion beyond the olive grove above town. He had been a brave soldier until his love of money turned his desires inward. Now he stayed at home to count his gold.

A young man stepped shyly forward. "This horse belongs to the old soldier who lives on the hill. He carried his master into battle, but his master has no use for him now."

The angry judges sent at once for the old soldier to appear before them.

When the fellow appeared, the first judge asked, "Is it true you let this faithful creature go because he no longer serves you?"

The old soldier lowered his head. He loved his money and no longer wished to pay to feed the horse. But he could not say that, not out loud. Looking now at his poor, starving horse, even his miserly heart began to hurt.

"Our judgment is this," said another judge. "You will spend half your money to pay for his food and shelter. You will give him a large green pasture where he may graze for the rest of his days. At night you will keep him in a warm stall to give him comfort. And you will not forget to include hay, for everyone deserves justice, even our animals."

The miser nodded. "Yes, I will," he said.

"And one more thing," the first judge said. "You will pay for a new rope for our bell."

The old soldier led the horse home, where the animal lived for the rest of his days, feasting on grass and hay.

He was loved by one and all who came to visit and to thank him for proving that the bell of Atri would always offer justice to all.