LISTEN LIVE: Loading...



'Clear as a Bell' | Ep. 147

(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)
(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)

Have you ever gotten caught telling a fib?

Maybe you told a grown-up that you put your toys away, but then they found all your stuff shoved under your bed. Or you swore that you brushed your teeth – when really you didn’t!

It’s happened to the best of us.

In today's tale, we’ll meet someone who gets caught in a lie they cannot deny. And the proof is in the palms!

Story continues below

Subscribe to the podcast

    Our story is called “Clear as a Bell.” Versions of this tale come from China. Interestingly, you’ll also hear variations from the Ozark Mountain region of the United States.

    Voices in this episode include Jason Ennis, Thais Harris, Hrishikesh Hirway, Edward Hong, Ken Jackson, Faith Salie, Nick Sholley, Alexia Trainor, and Carla Hall. You grown-ups may recognize Carla from Top Chef and The Chew. Her Food Network special, Holiday Baking Championship, is out now, as is her brand new children’s book, Carla and The Christmas Cornbread.

    This episode was adapted for Circle Round by Rebecca Sheir. It was edited by Supervising Producer Amory Sivertson. Original music and sound design is by Eric Shimelonis. Our artist is Sabina Hahn.

    Coloring Page

    (Sabina Hahn for WBUR)
    (Sabina Hahn for WBUR)

    ADULTS! PRINT THIS so everyone can color while listening. We’re also keeping an album so share your picture on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and tag it with #CircleRound. We'd love to see it! To access all the coloring pages for past episodes, click HERE. Our resident artist is Sabina Hahn and you can learn more about her HERE.

    Things To Think About After Listening

    Want to solve a mystery of your own? Try making a Mystery Box!

    Find a box – any box will do – and put one item inside. Then, close up the box, bring it to a family member or friend, and have them figure out your item by asking Yes or No questions – like “Can you write with it?” “Can you eat it?” “Is it bigger than a baseball?”

    Once they figure out your item, switch places and have your family member or friend put together a mystery box. Then use your detective skills to determine what’s inside!

    Musical Spotlight: The Handbells 

    Handbells have been traced as far back as 5th Century B.C. in China. (courtesy of Xylosmygame)
    Handbells have been traced as far back as 5th Century B.C. in China. (courtesy of Xylosmygame)

    Handbells are exactly what you’d think: bells you ring by hand! The idea of bells playing specific notes – and not just a “clang" – goes back at least five centuries. Handbells evolved in the 1700s, and each plays a specific note in the musical scale. A player or group of players (called a bell choir) can hold between one and six bells each, and they must ring the right bell at the right time in order to play a song.


    NARRATOR: Many moons ago… there lived a justice who was renowned for her fairness and wisdom. People journeyed to her courtroom from miles around, eager to have the brilliant woman settle their disputes.

    One morning, the justice was in her chambers, preparing for another day in court, when the owner of a jewelry store walked in.

    The store owner’s eyes brimmed with tears as he explained that, just yesterday, his jewelry shop... had been robbed!

    OWNER: It was dinnertime, Your Honor, and I was closing up for the day when I discovered that a diamond necklace was gone! It wasn’t in its case! I searched the store high and low, but I couldn’t find it anywhere. I’m certain, Your Honor, that the necklace was stolen!

    NARRATOR: The justice furrowed her brow as she handed the man a tissue.

    JUSTICE: I’m sorry to hear it, sir! Do you have any idea who could have taken the necklace?

    OWNER: Well, that’s the problem, Your Honor!

    NARRATOR: The store owner wiped his nose.

    OWNER: I don’t know who the thief is! Business was brisk yesterday, and I must have seen dozens of customers. I called them all up when I got home, but not one of them would confess! Every single person who visited my store yesterday claims they’re innocent!

    JUSTICE: I see...

    NARRATOR: The justice tapped her chin as she gazed thoughtfully at the ceiling.

    JUSTICE: Alright, sir. Here’s what we’re going to do. Tomorrow morning, I'll have all of the suspects brought to my courtroom. I want you to be there, too. And I promise, by the time the day is through, we’ll find our culprit — and you’ll find your necklace!

    NARRATOR: Once the store owner left, the justice summoned her clerks — her assistants --  to her chamber.

    JUSTICE: Listen, folks. I want you to go out and find me… a bell. The largest bell you can find. I’d also like you to bring some sturdy rope… a dozen pots of black ink… some poles... and some curtains. Thick, heavy curtains — the darker the better. Now hop to it!

    NARRATOR: The next morning, the justice’s courtroom was packed with people: the store owner was there, along with a handful of guards, a throng of onlookers, plus dozens of suspects in the theft of the diamond necklace.

    Sitting at her bench was the justice, her sharp eyes scanning the crowd. Never before had she seen this many suspects in one case! But instead of calling each suspect up to the bench and questioning them, she made an announcement.

    JUSTICE: Ladies and gentlemen. I have presided over this court for many years, and I have tried many cases. I have found thousands of people innocent… and thousands of people guilty. But the decision in today's case will not be made by me. Instead... I’ve brought in some help. Clerks?

    NARRATOR: The courtroom door opened, and the justice’s clerks appeared. They were pushing a cart. On the cart was a massive, bronze bell... as wide as a table and as tall as the Justice herself.

    The assembled crowd watched with fascination as the clerks attached the gleaming bell to a rope suspended from the ceiling. The bell hung just low enough to walk up and touch.

    JUSTICE: Ladies and gentlemen! This bell that hangs before you… it will tell the guilty from the innocent, and the innocent from the guilty. It will issue a ruling on this case.

    NARRATOR: The crowd was astounded

    JUSTICE: You see, ladies and gentlemen, this bell is touched with a sort of magic. And in order for that magic to work, I will need all of our suspects to please rise from their seats and form a single-file line, facing the bell.

    NARRATOR: The suspects were confused by the judge’s request, but they got to their feet and did as they were told.

    JUSTICE: Good. Now... one by one, I want you to approach the bell and deliver your testimony. Tell the bell everything you remember about the day of the robbery. What time you visited the jewelry store, the reason you visited the jewelry store, and whether you came home with anything - whether purchased… or stolen.

    NARRATOR: The suspects were even more perplexed now — was the judge really asking them to talk... to a bell? But again, they did as instructed and took turns walking up to the bell and sharing their stories.

    MAN 1: Okay, well, if memory serves, I visited the jewelry store around 9 o’clock in the morning…

    WOMAN 1: ...around 12 o’clock noon…

    MAN 2: ...around 6 in the evening, I think — just before closing time.

    WOMAN 2: I was there to buy a present for my niece’s birthday.

    MAN 3: For my nephew’s graduation.

    WOMAN 3: For my sister’s wedding.

    MAN 4: In the end, I bought some earrings...

    WOMAN 4: Some cufflinks.

    MAN 5: A bracelet and a ring...

    WOMAN 5: I didn’t buy anything myself — but that doesn’t mean I stole!

    MAN 6: I definitely did not steal!

    WOMAN 6: I’m innocent!

    MAN 7: So innocent!

    WOMAN 7: You have to believe me!

    NARRATOR: The stories went on and on. When the suspects finally finished and returned to their seats, the justice laid her elbows on the bench, clasped her hands together, and addressed the court.

    JUSTICE: Alright, ladies and gentlemen. Now that the bell has heard our suspects’ testimony, it will begin to determine who the real culprit is. But for the bell’s powers to work properly, it first must be hidden from view. Clerks?

    NARRATOR: The justice's clerks scurried over to the bell, their arms full of the supplies the Justice had requested.

    They used the bamboo poles and black velvet curtains to construct a sort of tent so that the bell was covered completely. As for the final item on the justice's list... well, we’ll get to that in just a bit.

    JUSTICE: Nice work, clerks! Not an inch of bronze is peeking through! So! Now that that’s done...

    NARRATOR: The justice’s eyes gleamed.

    JUSTICE: ...Let the magic begin!

    NARRATOR: What do you think will happen next?

    Does a bronze bell really have the power to tell the guilty from the innocent?

    We’ll find out, after a quick break.


    NARRATOR: I’m Rebecca Sheir. Welcome back to Circle Round. Today our story is called “Clear as a Bell.”

    NARRATOR: When we left off, a wise justice was looking for the thief who stole a diamond necklace from a jewelry store.

    Before the trial, the justice asked her clerks to fetch her five things: rope, poles, heavy curtains, black ink, and a bell — the biggest bell they could find.

    At the trial the following morning, the judge told the courtroom that this case would be decided not by her, but by a bell that was touched with magic.

    But, the judge explained, the bell’s powers only worked if it was out of sight. So she had her clerks use poles and curtains to build a tent around it.

    JUSTICE: Alright, ladies and gentlemen. Before the bell can reveal its verdict, we must do one more thing. I want all of the suspects in this case to stand up again, then take turns walking up to this tent here... reaching their hands through the curtains… and touching the bell.

    NARRATOR: A murmur rippled through the courtroom. What stunt was the justice pulling now?

    JUSTICE: I’m sensing some confusion in the room. Allow me to explain. It is believed that if someone touches this bell with an innocent hand... a hand free of wrongdoing… nothing will happen. But if you touch the bell with a guilty hand — a hand that has robbed or stolen — the bell will ring and ring and ring. It will ring so loud, and so clear, that the entire city will hear it, and the entire city will know of your guilt. So! Shall we begin?

    NARRATOR: All eyes were on the first suspect as he approached the bell. Slowly, he lifted his arm... stuck his hand behind the curtains… and then…?

    Nothing happened.

    Now the next suspect approached. She held out her hand… pushed it behind the curtains… and…?



    One by one the suspects reached their hands behind the curtains, but each and every time...

    ...the bell stayed silent.

    Once all the suspects were back in their seats, the jewelry store owner jumped up and pointed an accusing finger at the bell. His face was pinched with anger.

    OWNER: That bell, Your Honor, is bogus! One of these people stole a diamond necklace from my shop, yet the bell didn’t ring?!?! So much for “magic”! Now I’ll never know who robbed my store!

    NARRATOR: The assembled crowd broke out in a hubbub. A stir swept the room as they chattered amongst themselves. Was the jewelry store owner right? Was the justice’s bell really a load of bunkum?

    JUSTICE: Order in the court! Order in the court!

    NARRATOR: When the room quieted down, the justice turned to the store owner with a sympathetic look.

    JUSTICE: Good sir. I understand your frustration. But I promised you we would find the culprit, and I assure you — we will.

    NARRATOR: She turned back to the suspects.

    JUSTICE: Now listen up, folks. If you did not steal the diamond necklace from the jewelry store — if you believe you are innocent of this crime — please raise both your hands.

    NARRATOR: Hand after hand shot up as suspect after suspect proclaimed their innocence. Before long, the air was swimming with hands.

    The justice stood up from her chair and came out from behind the bench. Her bright eyes traveled across the room… from suspect to suspect… until at last they rested on a tall man in the back row.

    JUSTICE: You, sir! You are the one who stole the diamond necklace! Guards! Take this man away!

    NARRATOR: Immediately, two burly guards began marching toward the back row. The man leaped to his feet.

    TALL MAN: But Your Honor! Your Honor! How can I possibly be guilty?! The bell didn’t ring when I reached behind the curtains and touched it!

    JUSTICE: That’s because you didn’t touch it! Your hands are clean.

    TALL MAN: They’re what...?!?

    NARRATOR: All eyes were on the man now. It was true. His hands were spotless.

    But as the other suspects began to realize… their hands were filthy! All of their fingers and palms were smeared with something black.

    And when the judge marched over to the tent and pulled back the curtains, everyone saw that the bell was smeared with something black, too!

    Black ink!!

    JUSTICE: You see, sir… if you had actually touched the bell, your hands would be covered in ink! Just like everyone else’s are! But you didn’t touch the bell, did you, because you knew you weren’t innocent. You didn’t touch the bell because you feared that it would ring out your crime, your guilt, and let the entire city know that you stole the diamond necklace! This court is adjourned!

    NARRATOR: And so it was.

    And with the help of a magic bell, the case of the stolen necklace was solved.

    Alright, okay, so perhaps the bell wasn’t actually a magic bell… but after that case, everyone agreed that the justice was most definitely a magician.

    Rebecca Sheir Host, Circle Round
    Rebecca Sheir is the host "Circle Round," WBUR's kids storytelling podcast.



    Listen Live