Once upon a time, many years ago, in a town next to a big lake, a boy was born. He was a total uggo, about as sharp as a marble, and very unlovable. In fact, his mother soon tired of him and dumped him on the steps of the respected Rush Rhees Library, the top of which could be seen for miles around. She hoped that the kindly librarians would take him in and raise him. These librarian folk were homely, comforting figures in the boy’s life. They showed him around the stacks, teaching him to note catalog numbers and the Dewey Decimal system. However, they were presided over by the evil Count of Rush Rhees.
The Count was a menacing, shrewd man who could not stand the sight of the boy. The mice, the gnomes, and the creeping vines were tolerable. But the boy was not. The librarians were instructed by the Count to make the boy work for his food and lodging. And so, he did. He was made to sweep the floors every night and clean up the stacks every morning. His most important task, however, was to ring the bell. Every 15 minutes, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., each day, he would hoist himself to the top of the library, climbing the vines that grew up the side of the building. He would shimmy into the narrow tower and pull with all his strength to sound the bell, which would be heard from miles around. It was imperative he be right on time, or chaos would ensue. The townspeople relied on the sound of the bell to know what time it was.
Eventually, the boy grew to love his life in the library. The musty ambience of the stacks, of mildew and mold, the flickering lights, the toxic sulfur fumes of leaky, centuries-old pipes. He knew what times the librarians retired to their living quarters in the basement, when he had free reign of the library. He learned to notice the slight movement of shadows at the corner of his eye in the nights, knowing that in these late hours the gnomes were hard at work writing, printing and shelving the “books” that the library is filled with. But he hated, with a great passion, the bell tower. It was where he lived, lonely and cold. In the winter times, his only companions were the snowflakes that drifted in through the cracks in the windows. He would often look down at the students jovially carousing together stories below him, longing to join the throng, to experience the joys of life with them. He’d never even eaten a Pringle before. When his frustration became unbearable, he would drop snowballs on them, the unwitting students throwing confused glances at the sky, or shaking a fist at the heavens, unaware of the apparition that loomed above them.
As he grew older, the boy would venture farther and farther away from the bell tower, tiptoeing through the tunnels and weaving into the crowd of students. One day, he forayed down to the bakery, to find the source of the pleasing aroma of coffee and baked goods that would waft toward his humble abode. Unfortunately, the Count was also enjoying a toasty Connections croissant at that time. The Count grabbed him by the ear and dragged him back to the bell tower, slamming the door and locking it behind him. The boy jumped up and pulled with all his might, but to his great dismay, the door would not budge.
Over the next week, the boy’s meals were brought to him by the librarians, and he remained locked in the bell tower, forbidden from coming out. This continued for another month. Then two months. Then three. Soon, the days became uncountable. The boy lived only in fifteen-minute intervals. Hunching over to ring the bells stiffened his back, and his ears were deafened by the constant noise. Over time, he was granted permission to expand the number of bells in the tower. He invented a system of strings and pulleys that would allow him to change the tones of the bells. He would even play his own melodies. Yet he always yearned for the closeness of friends, to become one of the students that passed through the halls and classes.
Some say, to this day, you can still hear the bells of Rush Rhees, chiming every 15 minutes on the dot. If you, though busied by your routine, happen to notice the sound of the bells, hark! It is the voice of a man, alone, unwanted, desperate for the world to hear him.
“Through many long days and many long nights, our students woes never cease
But nothing compares to the forlorn tale of the olde hunchback of Rush Rhees.”