Victor turns Poe's ode into poetry and motion

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Neither the first nor last to become enamored of bells is my young charge Victor. He appreciates bells of all kinds, from sleigh bells to lily-of-the-valley bells, to a trio of camel bells hung from a red braided ribbon over my kitchen door. He delights in ringing the old copper cow bell to announce dinner. He would, if allowed, just as exuberantly test the ruby glass one. Victor and I have an understanding. I trust him, and he nearly always rises to the occasion. But if he should break something, well, we know it was purely an accident. We go easy on each other and let love rule. After all, we agree, things are just things. Recently he prevailed on me to unhook the brass camel bells from their high perch. Immediately he began ringing. He rang them almost to the point of my distraction. I hated to spoil his pleasure, though he sensed my patience was reaching its limit. He kept glancing sideways at me, checking. You have to stay one-up on youngsters; experience teaches that. So I hit on a happy solution. "Hold on," I said. "There's a game we can play with those bells. Here's a wonderful old book with pictures." I reached for my copy of Poe's "The Bells" from a high shelf. The thick pages of the beautiful, small book are gilt-edged all around, the white cover stamped with gold and silver bells, flowers, and an angel. Six artists had collaborated on this 1881 edition. The cherished gift from a friend, years ago, was about to be introduced to Victor. We sat side by side on the couch, he clutching his prized bells. "I'll read a few lines," I said. "You watch for my signal. When I raise my Peter-pointer finger, you ring. When I lower it ,you stop." "OK," he squirmed. "Let's go." " 'Hear the sledges with the bells - / Silver bells!' " He gazed intently at the pictures of horses and sleighs dashing across moonlit snow. I read on, till that most melodious line in all of Poe's work: " 'To the tin-tin-nab-u-la-tion that so musically wells.' " Then my index finger went up. Joyfully my young friend rang accompaniment: " 'From the bells, bells, bells, bells,/ Bells, bells, bells, - / From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.' " (Victor's did more than tinkle.) My hand dropped. A rapturous wait. The wedding bells: " 'How they ring out their delight!' " Again Victor got the message, ringing his, " 'To the swinging and the ringing..../ To the rhyming and the chiming,' " while I pealed my own 10 bell tones. So it went, through the "loud alarum bells," screaming out their affright. Near to bursting, Victor waited to add his own clamor to that "mad expostulation" and, when I again raised my hand he vehemently jangled and wrangled to the "anger of the bells." Ah, there were iron bells, melancholy and rusty-throated bells to ponder, And people " 'that dwell up in the steeple,/ All alone' " to be studied. Sometimes Victor simply could not wait, and a tentative, speculative appeal met my gaze, so that I nodded and half-lifted my finger so that he might half-ring. Thus he was able to relieve the tension of that "Runic rhyme" the king who tolled kept time to, dancing and yelling. The bells throbbed and sobbed while Victor kept time, time, time, "To the rolling of the bells.' " Fifteen, 16, ... we lost count of the bells in our delivery. Not until Victor's mother arrived, standing in the archway, hands over ears, begging us to cease and desist, did we simmer down, my voice trailing off, Victor's last ring echoing.... Drained, we looked at each other with a wild surmise. We grinned at each other and at her: Did she imagine this was the last time we'd expose ourselves to such a delicious experience? With a final flourish I rehung the camel bells on their nail over the door. Who thought they'd have so much life in them, or that Poe's lines could have caused such reactions in the happy pair of us, generations apart?

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