An ageless sound

One spring I got to live in a magical country. It was called Scotland. A friend away at sea let me stay in his cottage there for a week, and every day I journeyed on my bike to a different part of the green.

One day, abandoning all paths, I rode out into some bumpy little hills. For miles and miles I just kept going, picking myself up whenever I fell off, and sticking wild flowers all over the bike. I forgot years and years of book learning and crafty lessons and tricks of the city; all that I knew seemed to come from an echo of things that had bloomed long ago and in some mysterious way still existed.

It was late afternoon, that time of day when the sky was slowly rolling over in its nap, when I spotted what looked like a stone structure ahead. Pedaling wildly, I soon reached it and approached a sign posted sternly before it. The sign said, "Douglas Castle. Historic Site Soon To Be Restored. No Larking About."

I certainly didn't want to lark about. But neither did I want to have come all that way for nothing. So I put it to the castle. To that darkening, four-towered mass of stone I called, "Please, may I come in? I promise to be good."

Seconds afterwards some birds flew out of one of the towers. They circled over my head for a few moments, then flew back. This bird-answer to my request I took to be a "Well, okay," and, propping my bike against the sign, I approached the castle.

Up some broken stairs, down some more, then out into a cleared space that must once have been a great hall I came. And there, where once there must have been long heroic tables on whose oaken tops mailed fists beat lustily for more mead, where once there must have been kings smiling in their furs, queens nodding in their serenity, barons laughing in their intrigue, jesters, musicians , and dogs, now there was only a field of rank weeds stirring in the wind.

Slowly running my hand along the dark, mossy walls, I crept up spiral stairs to the top of one tower after another. At the top of the first two I found musky silence. At the top of the third only birds whose beating wings reproached me for repaying their earlier welcome with snoopiness.

But at the top of the fourth I found something that made me tingle all over with awe, a huge, rusty, iron bell hanging from the arched ceiling. For several moments I just stood and gaped at it, savoring every mote and note of romance that swirled in the air.

Then, taking hold of its clapper, I began to ring it. At first the old bell sounded tentative, almost apologetic for the years of stillness. But the more I rang it, the more full-throated and indomitable it sounded. Bong, I've been the bell of a castle of silence, asleep. Bong, I am now the bell of a castle of silence, waking. Bong, bong, bong!

What a sound, so ancient and yet so young.

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