Gateway to the Classics: Why the Chimes Rang by Raymond Macdonald Alden
Why the Chimes Rang by  Raymond Macdonald Alden


The Palace Made by Music

M ANY hundreds of years ago there was a kingdom in a distant country, ruled by a good king who was known everywhere to be rich and powerful and great. But although the capital was a large and beautiful city, and the king was surrounded by nobles and princes almost as rich and powerful as he, there was one very strange thing noticed by every one who came into the kingdom: the king had no palace. He lived in a plain house near the edge of the city, not half as large or fine-looking as many of those belonging to his subjects. And he had lived there for a good many years.

Of course there was a reason why the kingdom had no palace. It had not always been so. Years before, in the reign of the present king's father, there had stood in the midst of the capital city perhaps the most beautiful palace in the world. It was a very old building,—so old that no one knew when it had been built; and it was so large that, although people often tried to count the number of rooms it contained, they always grew tired before they had finished. The walls were of white marble, with splendid columns on all four sides, and behind the columns, in spaces cut into the marble walls, were pictures in bright colors that people came from distant countries to see. No one knew who had built the palace, or painted the pictures on its walls; for it had been the treasure of the kings and people of the kingdom for a longer time than their history told anything about.

Then, when the present king was but a little child, the palace had been destroyed. On a festival day, when the royal family and the greater part of the citizens were marching in a procession outside the city, there had come a great earthquake. All over the kingdom the people heard the rumbling and felt the ground shaking around them, but they had no idea what a terrible thing had happened, until they came to the city. Then they found that the earth had opened and swallowed up the palace in one great crash. Not so much as a single block of the marble remained. The crumbled earth fell into the opening, covering the ruins out of sight, and leaving a great rough piece of ground like that in a desert, instead of the beautiful spot that had always been there in the center of the city.


Marching in a procession

Every one felt thankful, first of all, that the king and all his family had been outside the building when the earthquake came, but in spite of this they could not help mourning deeply over the loss of the palace. The king himself was so saddened by it that he grew old much sooner than he would otherwise have done, and died not many years later. It seemed useless to try to build another palace that would satisfy those who had seen the splendor of the old one, and no one tried. When the young prince became king, although he could not remember how the palace looked in which he had been born, yet he had heard so much of its beauty that he mourned over its loss as deeply as his father, and would not allow any of his nobles or counselors to propose such a thing as the building of a new one. So he continued to live in the plain house near the outskirts of the city, never going near the great empty space in the center of the capital. And this was how he came to be the only king in the world without a palace.

But although every one agreed that it was useless to try to build a new palace in the way in which other buildings were made, there were always some who hoped for a new one which should be no less splendid than the old. The reason for this was a strange legend that was written in the oldest books of the kingdom. This legend related that the beautiful old palace had been made in a single day, not having been built at all, but having been raised up by the sound of music. In those early days, it was said, there was music far more wonderful than any now known. Men had forgotten about it, little by little, as they grew more interested in other things. Indeed, every one believed that there had been a time when, by the sound of music, men could tame wild beasts and make flowers bloom in desert places, and move heavy stones and trees. But whether it was really true that the great palace had been made in this way—this was not so certain. There were some, however, who believed the legend with all their hearts, and they had hopes that a new palace might be made as beautiful as the one destroyed by the earthquake. For, they said, what has been done can be done again. If it is really true that a great musician made the old palace, it may be that some day we shall find a musician who can make another.

The musicians, of course, were especially interested in the old legend, and many a one of them made up his mind to try to equal the music of the earlier time. Often you might pass by the edge of the waste place where the old palace had stood, and see some musician playing there. He had, perhaps, been working for years on a tune which he hoped would be beautiful enough to raise a new palace from the ruins of the old. In those days men played on lyres or harps, or on flutes and pipes made of reeds that grew by the water-side; there were no organs, no orchestras, and no choirs. So the musicians came alone, one by one, and played their loveliest music, not minding that those who passed by often laughed at them for believing that anything would come of it; for they did not mind being laughed at when they had hope of such great glory as the maker of a palace would surely win. This went on year by year, until the young king grew to be almost as old as his father had been when he died, but no musician as great as those of the earlier time was found.

Now there lived in the city a boy named Agathon, who wished to be a musician. He had played on the lyre ever since he was old enough to carry it, and there was no boy in the kingdom who could make sweeter music. Agathon had also a friend named Philo, who was as fond as he of playing on the lyre. They used often to talk together of the days when they should learn to play so well that they would dare to go, like the other musicians, and try to raise a new palace.

"I am sure it will be you who will finally do it," Philo would say to Agathon.

"No," the other would answer, "I shall try, but by that time I am sure you will play a great deal better than I. And if it is one of us, we are such good friends that it will not matter which."

One day the two boys made a discovery. It happened that Agathon was playing on his lyre, when Philo, coming in to see him, heard the tune, and was so delighted with it that he cried, "I must try to play it, too." So he ran for his own lyre, and presently began to play before Agathon had finished. He did not strike the same notes that Agathon did, but other notes a little lower in the scale; and instead of making discord, the different notes sounded so sweetly together that both the boys looked up in surprise.

"This is a new kind of music," said Agathon, "and I think it is better than when either you or I play alone." So they tried to play in this way a number of different tunes.

When they had done this for a time they had another thought. "If two different notes played together are more beautiful than one," said Philo, "why may not three be more beautiful than two?"

"Sure enough!" said Agathon. "And what is more, it may be that in this way people could make music as fine as that by which the palace was made."

Having once formed this idea, the two boys were eager that it should be tried. So they went at once to one of the chief musicians of the city, with whom they were acquainted, and told him what they had discovered by playing their two instruments together. Then they suggested that he should take a friend with him—or perhaps even two friends—to the place where the palace had stood, and try what could be done by the new music.

The musician was interested in what they said, but he shook his head.

"It would be of no use," he said. "There is no musician who has not tried already, and it is foolish to think that two or three of us could play together better than we can separately. Besides, each of us wants the glory of making the new palace for himself, and if we did it together no one would be satisfied."

"Would it not be enough," asked Agathon, "to have the pleasure of making it for the king, even if no one knew who had done it at all?"

"No," said the musician, "if I do it I want to do it by myself, and have the glory of it." And when the boys spoke to other musicians, they said very much the same thing.

But Agathon and Philo were not discouraged. First of all they looked for still another player; and when they heard of a crippled boy who lived not far away, and who was said to be very fond of music, they asked him to join them. He was very much surprised when they told him that they wanted him to learn to play his lyre at the same time that they played theirs, and yet not to play the same notes. But presently he learned to do it, striking notes a little lower in the scale than either Agathon or Philo; and when all three made music together, they were sure it was the most beautiful sound they had ever heard.

"Let us go and play at the place of the palace!" said Philo. "It will do no harm to try."

As the next day was a holiday, and they had planned nothing else to do, it was agreed. They rose very early in the morning, before any of the crowds of the city would be on the streets, took their lyres under their arms, and made their way toward the place of the old palace, helping the crippled boy as they walked.

When they were near the place, they met a sad-looking man coming away. He, too, was evidently a musician, for he had a lyre under his arm. But he seemed to be a stranger in the city, and the boys stopped to ask him why he was so sad.

"I have come a long way," he said, "because I wanted to try the skill of my lyre with the musicians of your city, and see whether I could not prove myself as great a master as the one who made your lost palace. But I have tried, and have done no better than any of the rest."

"Do not be sad about it, then," said Agathon, "but turn about and try once more with us. For you have a larger lyre, with heavy strings, and I have thought that if we could add to our three kinds of notes another still farther down the scale, the music would sound more beautiful than ever. Come with us, and listen when we play; then perhaps you will see how to join in and help us."

So the stranger turned about and went with the three boys to the place of the palace. Now the boys had supposed that, as it was so early in the morning, they would be the only ones there. But it happened that a great many musicians had felt, like them, that the morning of the holiday would be a very good time to make another trial of their instruments, and had also thought, like them, that by coming early they would not be interrupted by the crowds. So when the three boys and the stranger came to the street that looked into the place of the palace, they found it almost filled with musicians, some carrying lyres, like themselves, and some with harps or flutes or other instruments. It was all very quiet, however, since no one cared to try his skill at playing before all the rest; for every musician was jealous of the others.

After they had looked about for a few minutes, and had seen why it was that so many were there and yet that there was no music, Philo said:

"Let us begin to play, Agathon. It can do no harm, and perhaps we can really show these musicians how much better music can be made by playing together, than by each one playing for himself."

"Very well," said Agathon. "Let us begin."

So they took up their lyres and began to play them together as they had learned to do; and presently the stranger, whom they had brought with them, touched the strings of his lyre very softly, to see if he could find deep notes that would sound sweetly with those of the boys. It was not long before he did so, and when he began really to play with them, and the four lyres sounded in concert, it seemed to Agathon that he heard for the first time the music of which he had been dreaming all his life.

Now the other musicians who were standing by in silence were listening with the greatest surprise, for they had never heard any music like this in all their lives. After a little time, one and another of them, seeing that it was possible to play at the same time with others, took up his instrument and began to join the tune that the four were playing, for the tune itself was known to all of them, being the chief national song of the kingdom. So there spread from one musician to another the desire to take a part in this strange new music, until hardly any were left who could keep from taking up their instruments and joining in one part or another of what the others were playing. And there went up a great mingled sound that swept over the whole part of the city where they stood, and seemed to fill all the air with music. Playing in this way, all the musicians together, it happened at last that, as they grew more and more joyful with the sound, they struck a great chord, so much more beautiful than anything they had ever heard before, that they held it for a long time, not wishing to change this sound for any other, and looking at one another with eyes full of wonder and happiness.

And as they did so, there came into the volume of music the sound of great shouting, for men who had gathered in the streets to listen to the players were calling—"Look, look! The palace! the palace!" And when all the people turned their eyes to the great empty space which had lain waste for so long, they saw a wonderful sight. The earth was breaking away, almost as though another earthquake were pushing it, and out of the midst of it were rising great walls of white marble, that lifted themselves higher and higher, until there stood in the morning sunshine a new palace of as perfect beauty as men had ever dreamed of in the old one. All these years it had waited for that great chord of music to lift it out of the earth, and at last it had come.

This, as I have heard the story, is the way in which men learned to make music together, instead of playing and singing each for himself. And this is the way in which the new palace was made for the king who had been so long without one. But no one quite knew who had done it, so the musicians forgot their jealousies of one another, and all the people rejoiced together. And if there has not been another earthquake, I suppose the new palace must be standing still.

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