The Firebird LVIII



At length we saw a clearing in the wood.  A shower of diamonds and rubies fell rattling at my feet as I brushed aside a low branch and peered out beyond the fringe of trees into the open space.  At the center of a large paved square in the midst of a thickly planted orchard stood a large, high-built, steep-roofed hall, its walls of white stone and heavy timbers, its gables of carved and painted oak.  The trees around it, which stood in neatly serried ranks, hung heavy with apples, pears, plums, and brightly flashing gems.

Looking up at my companion, I saw my own feelings of curiosity and expectancy reflected in his expression.  Without a word, we joined hands and stepped out into the clearing.  All was silent as we approached the imposing structure; no one stood on guard to keep the entrance.  Seeing that one of the leaves of the massive double door stood ajar, we put our shoulders to it and shoved.  It swung open as easily and noiselessly as a feather on the breeze.

Standing on the threshold and staring into the darkness within, we were overtaken from behind by a stiff blast of wind sweeping down out of the sky.  Something soft and cold touched my cheek.  I looked up to see snow just beginning to fall in the clearing, lightly frosting the trees and fruits of the stately orchard with a fine and glistening white dust.  At the same instant a breath of air from within the hall, warm and scented with pine and roses, struck us full in the face and filled our nostrils with a heady sweetness.  As if from a great distance we heard the voices of the children rising up again from the depths of the forest beyond the great house:


                       Lully lullay, thou tiny child,

                       Bye bye, lully lullay …


The warm and spicy sweetness of the air drew us in through the doorway, under the low ceiling of a paneled vestibule, and out into a vast, lofty, echoing space like the nave of a grand cathedral.  As our eyes grew accustomed to the dimness we saw two rows of massy wooden pillars, huge as tree boles, marching down the length of the building in evenly spaced ranks and converging in a pool of light at the far end of the hall.  Toward this spot we slowly made our way with light and reverent tread, careful all the while – though we hardly knew why – to preserve the velvety silence of the place.

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