Child's Morality Story
The Curfew Shall
Not Ring Tonight

Adapted From Antique Book
© James Dearmore, 2009
[Gospel Web Globe]

From Graphic Stories for Boys and Girls — published in England in the 1800's --- A series of morality stories -- stories of interest for children, youths, and even adults.

THERE'S an odd little voice ever speaking within,
That prompts us to duty, and warns us from sin;
And, what is most strange, it will make itself heard,
Though it gives not a sound, and says never a word.

* * * * *


Many years ago it was the custom in England to have a bell rung at nightfall, as a signal for the people to cover up their fires and put out their lights. The custom was established by William the Conqueror, and the bell thus rung was called the curfew. The following story relates to an event that happened in those early times.

It was in an English village. The sun was sinking, the shadows were deepening towards night, and in the jail there sat a prisoner. He was a robust, noble man, yet the shadows meant to him the approach of death. He was good, brave, and young, yet he was condemned to be hanged.

The people of the place knew and loved him, and there was a whisper that friends with soldiers were coming to deliver him; but if they should not come before the curfew tolled he would be a dead man, for the judges had said, "Hang him at the curfew." All the people of the village sat in their houses sorrowful, all save one girl of eighteen years. She stood in the long street, wretched, and alone, and watching, hardly knowing what she should do.

The old sexton who had rung the bell at sunset for seventy years would soon be going his way to ring it; and at its slow bing, bang, the jailer would lead out the young prisoner to die. His orders were, "At the ringing of the curfew."

The girl, almost crazed with grief at the thought of the fate that was to befall her sweetheart, had come to a desperate resolve. She was waiting for the sexton. Would he listen to her? Oh, he must! he must! It was a merciless law, and must be broken at any cost. She was only a cottage girl, but she would conquer the law. "It shall not ring," she said to herself.

The crimson clouds were all fading in the west, and steadily sank the sun. A moment of terrible silence fell on the village.

The jailer had gone to the prison; and now the sexton turned out and limped his way towards the church.

The girl walked up to the sexton's side.

"Oh, sexton, you must not, you must not--- you shall not ring!" she pleaded, wringing her hands, her eyes red and swollen with hot, scalding tears.

The deaf old sexton shook his head, and moved on towards the church tower. "I must do my duty, girl," he said; "I must do my duty."

Every step of the way towards that dreadful door she pleaded and wept. To be hanged herself would seem as nothing compared with his being hanged!

"It is wicked! You shall not! Oh, you shall not! They'll hang him!" she cried, as the sexton put his hand on the belfry door.

He was deaf to pity; he pushed her away, and proceeded to open the door. The despairing girl's eyes fell upon the rope that pulled the bell. Then the dim shape of a ladder gleamed on her sight. It was the ladder to the bell-chamber. Swift as the flash of her thought she darted up while the old man was fumbling about, and when he turned she was gone. By ladder after ladder she reached the chamber where the big bell hung.

With the frenzy of a hope which in a second might be too late, she sprang at the tongue hanging above her head, and clung with the grip of desperation. She lifted herself higher, twining her soft arms tightly round its big iron ball, her heart throbbing with fear lest she should lose her hold when the great bell should swing.

The rope began to move, the beam to roll, and the bell to toss. It struck her head, but she would not have heeded it had it tortured her to death, Her care was, had the curfew rung.

Again the beam turned, again the bell swung, and this time her limbs touched the great iron sides. Had the bell rung? She thought not. Once again the rope was pulled, and again the bell rolled, and again her limbs dashed against the cold sides. Her ears were clear; she listened, it was mute. A hum, not louder than the hum of a bee in a flower, and not heard any further, mingled with the creaking of the old beams of the tower.

The three pulls were finished! Still she hung on. Would he pull once more? Listening, she faintly heard below, the old sexton go out and the tower door close behind him. He did not know the bell had never sounded. At once she relaxed her bleeding arms and hands, and dropped to her feet. The chamber swam and the tower reeled. She staggered for a moment, then felt her way slowly down ladder after ladder, and let herself timidly out into the twilight.

All was still in the jail. The jailer, waiting, breathless, listened for the curfew. The young prisoner stood with hands tied. The villagers heard their own hearts beat as they awaited the first stroke of the fatal bell. Would somebody tell the old sexton that the curfew had not rung? She was in agony.

Suddenly was heard in the distance the sound of horses' feet. All eyes were turned towards the hill above the village. Winding along its slope appeared a company of troops with Cromwell at its head. Swift as a swallow the girl darted towards the leader, and throwing herself at his feet, begged the life of her sweetheart. She told her whole story and showed her bleeding hands. Cromwell was touched with the sad, worn face of the heroic girl, and tears dimmed his eyes. With great tenderness he told the girl her sweetheart was safe, and handed her a pardon.

With flying steps she rushed back to the prison and thrust the pardon into the jailer's hands. In a few moments the girl and her sweetheart were locked in each other's arms. Years after, the old people still told their children of that night on which the curfew never rang. - End of Story

* * * * *

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow;
The year is going let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.--- Tennyson

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