In the narrow streets of the big town, toward evening when the sun was setting and the clouds shone like gold on the chimney tops, people would hear a strange sound like that of a church bell. But they heard it only for a few moments before it was lost in the rumble of city carriages and the voices of the multitudes, for such noises are very distracting. "Now the evening bell is ringing," people used to say. "The sun is setting."
People who were outside the town, where the houses were more scattered, with little gardens or fields between them, could see the evening sky in even more splendor and hear the bell more distinctly. It was as if the tones came from some church, buried in the silent and fragrant depths of the forest, and people looked solemnly in that direction.
A long time passed, and people began to say to each other, "I wonder if there really is a church out there in the woods? That bell has a mysterious, sweet tone. Let's go out there and see what it looks like."
So the rich people drove out, and the poor people walked out, but to all of them it seemed a very long way. When they reached a grove of willows on the outskirts of the woods, they sat down and looked up into the branches and imagined they were really in the heart of the forest. The town confectioner came out and set up his tent there, and then another confectioner came, and he hung a bell right above his tent; but the bell had no clapper and was all tarred over as a protection against the rain.
When the people went home again, they said it had all been very romantic, much more fun than a tea party. Three people even said that they had gone right through the forest to the far side and had still heard the strange sound of the bell, only then it seemed to be coming from the direction of town.
One of these even wrote a poem about the bell and compared its tones to those of a mother singing to a beloved child-no melody could be sweeter than the tones of that bell.
The Emperor of the country heard about the bell and issued a solemn proclamation promising that whoever discovered the source of the lovely sounds would receive the title of "Bell Ringer to the World," even it there were not really a bell there at all.