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Twelve Nights: Three Tales
Mary Sharratt


Light in the Window

On Christmas Eve my parents and sisters went down the mountain to Midnight Mass in the village below, leaving me to look after Grandmother, who was so old that she had lost her sight. Day and night, dark and light -- they were all the same to her. Outside the wind rattled the roof and windows, wailing so loudly that it drowned out the distant church bells. As I sat turning the pages of the illustrated Bible, Grandmother rambled on, telling me superstitious old tales.

"That banging you hear on the roof, child," she said in her querulous voice.

"That’s just the wind, Grandmother."

"No," she insisted. "That’s the Wild Hunter riding past. Don’t you hear the howling of his hounds?"

As the night dragged on, the weather grew as turbulent as my grandmother’s tales. Just before midnight, a blast of wind slammed open the parlor window. Before I could close it, the icy wind rushed into the room and blew out the lamp.

"The light’s gone out!" I cried, grabbing my grandmother’s hand. This time, of the two of us, it was Grandmother who remained solid and sensible.

"There’s no use shrieking, my dear. Go and latch that window so it stops its banging. Then take the lamp into the kitchen and light it with an ember from the hearth."

After shutting the window, I took the lamp and felt my way through the darkness. When I knelt at the hearth, I discovered that the cold wind rattling down the chimney had put out the fire, as well. Running my fingers through the lifeless ashes, I wondered what I would do. The rest of the family wouldn’t be back until well after midnight. How my mother would scold me for letting the fire go out. Then I saw something in the kitchen window -- a dazzling glimmer that held me steady and hopeful.

"Grandmother!" I called excitedly. "The fire’s gone out, but I see a light in the neighbor’s window. I’ll carry the lantern to their house and ask them to light it for me."

"Be careful not to lose your way in the snow," she called back. "The drifts are so deep on the mountainside, you could fall into a ravine. Keep your eyes on the light in the window."

Lacing my boots and putting on my cloak, I picked up the lantern and stepped outside. In this wind, with the snowflakes filling the darkness like stars, it was hard to dismiss Grandmother’s tales. I was a little child again who believed everything the old woman told me. Just keep your eyes fixed on that light, I told myself, and you’ll be safe. Floundering with each step through the deep snow, I choked on the wind that whipped my cloak around me, yet I pressed on, drawn steadily forward by the light. After what seemed to be only a short time, I reached the house, yet as I entered the courtyard, overgrown with ivy now shrouded in snow, it did not seem like the neighbor’s house, at all. Light came streaming from a narrow passageway, which I entered, a little hesitantly at first. As I went further in, the light grew brighter. I walked down a flight of uneven stone steps, which led into a dazzlingly lit cellar with a high vaulted ceiling. It was so warm here, I had to open my cloak before stepping forward.

Vaguely I wondered how I had seen the light if it was coming from this underground place. The grandeur of the room soon swept such thoughts away. I gazed at the marble floors, the tapestries of apple trees and rose gardens, and the mirrors framed in silver and gold. More radiant than any of these was the great hearth, and even more wondrous than the hearth was the lady who sat beside it, the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. It hurt to look at her, hurt even to breathe. If I found myself speechless, the lady, it seemed, was beyond speech, as well. She did not utter a word, but smiled and held out her hand. Every pale finger bore a jewel that flashed in the hearth flames. The smoke curling upward from the fire smelled sweeter than all the flowers of summer.

I stood frozen with my unlit lamp. As if reading my thoughts, the lady nodded and, taking a small shovel that rested near the hearth, scooped out burning coals from the depths of the fire. With her free hand, she took the bottom hem of my apron and, before my unbelieving eyes, let the fiery coals fall off the shovel on to the homespun cloth. The lady gave me a look of utter kindness and goodwill, as if to tell me not to be afraid.

But I jerked away and screamed. "You’ll burn me!" The glittering coals fell to the floor.

In an instant, the lovely room vanished. I shivered on the deserted mountainside amid the ruins of an old castle, a mile or more away from my neighbor’s farm. Gritting my teeth against the cold, I bolted down the mountain. Years later I would wonder how I ever found my way home in the darkness, but at last I came upon our house with its lit up windows. When I threw myself at the door, my mother opened it, took my hand, and drew me into the warmth and light.

"I can’t believe that grandmother of yours sent you out alone in the dark," said my mother.

My sisters gathered round, questions poised on their lips. Mother told them to leave me in peace. After helping me out of my snow-crusted clothes, she handed me my nightgown and tucked me into bed. "Your father went to the neighbor’s to get fire to light the hearth. You shouldn’t have gone out there alone."

When I tried to tell Mother what had happened, that it had been my idea, not Grandmother’s, and that I had seen a shimmering lady who shoveled coals into my apron, Mother just stroked my hair and told me to sleep.

After my mother had left the room, Grandmother, who had listened to the whole exchange, sat at the foot of my bed and whispered, "Oh child, if you had taken those coals she tried to give you. They were really pieces of gold. That was Lady Holle, on my oath. Sometimes she is silent. Sometimes she speaks. Oh my child, she chose you, but you were fearful. You would have been rich, but now it’s gone, all gone. Another chance like that won’t come again for another hundred years."

The morning after I saw the vision of the beautiful lady, I awoke to find blood on my nightgown. My mother told me that I was now a woman, though, in truth, I felt more like a bewildered child than ever. All I could think of were the lady’s burning coals in my apron. Had I not let them fall to the floor, what would have happened? The only one who understood my confusion was Grandmother, but she was growing more clouded by the day.

The following year, my mother died and then my father, too, for he could not live without her. Hardly another six months had passed before my grandmother passed on, as well. Without parents, my three older sisters and I fell into poverty, and had to sell our house and land. My sisters secured their futures by marrying. One sister bound her fate to a farmer, one gave herself to a harness maker, and the third to a blacksmith. I saw them change from girls into harried wives and mothers, bent by the weight of the water they hauled and the babies that thickened their bellies. But I did not marry. Being such a backward girl, I did not look at men, and they did not look at me.

Ever since the night that lady shoveled glowing coals into my apron, I had been haunted. Touched, as they say. Regardless whether what I had witnessed was real or imaginary, I could never be the same afterward, could never be an ordinary or uncomplicated girl. Some people thought I was simple and others thought I was mad. Each of my sisters invited me to join their households, but I knew what they really wanted was an unpaid servant. Instead I walked over the mountain pass to the next valley where no one knew my name, let alone my story, and hired myself out as a maid. If I were going to toil at the stove and the spinning wheel, it wouldn’t be for my sisters’ charity and a pallet in some drafty alcove. No, I wanted to serve a well-to-do mistress who would treat me kindly and speak to me with gentle words.

The lady I chose was a wealthy miller’s wife and the most beautiful woman I had seen since my vision of the lady with the coals. She carried herself like a noblewoman. Her husband, the miller was so in awe that he deferred to her. Unbeknownst to him, she was a witch, a thing she kept secret, for not so long ago, they had burned witches in that valley. She took me into her confidence because she could tell I had been touched by Lady Holle, the one she served. She told me that Holle was queen of the secret people who lived beneath the earth and who, my mistress claimed, had taught her all her magic. What’s more, my mistress made me her apprentice, sending me out to the meadows and woods to gather the herbs she needed for her spells. Yet despite all her charms and incantations, and in spite of her seven years of wedlock, my mistress could not conceive a child. Many hours she spent locked in her chamber and gazing into her magic mirror. Sometimes I was bold enough to try to coax her to reveal what she had seen in the glass.

"You can see into the future," I said, smiling and leaning close. "Well, I would know my future, too."

Sometimes she told me things such as how the flax would grow and if the next year would be good for wheat. And sometimes she told me which village wife would go astray with which man. But then a time came when she took to frowning and sighing. "I can’t say what’s wrong. Usually the glass is so clear when I gaze, but lately it just keeps misting over, and I see nothing."

If I was intimate with my mistress, I hardly even noticed my master, the miller. The role he played in my life seemed small. He was forever preoccupied with the mill, his apprentices, and the fields beyond, which he owned and rented out to the peasant farmers who, in turn, came with their sacks of grain to be ground in our mill. Even when the miller sat in the kitchen, his face was bent over the beer I brewed or the soup I cooked. His face was a distant blur and, though I served him his meals every day, I could not name the color of his eyes. But my mistress’ face I knew better than my own. Even as an old woman, I would remember the way she smiled as she showed me the most flattering way to wear my shawl and braid my hair. Perhaps because she had no children, she took me under her wing and treated me more like a dear friend than a common servant.

When Christmas Eve came, I found her in a playful mood. "Would you truly know your future?" she inquired, glancing at me impishly out of the corner of her eye as I laced her into her red velvet dress with the golden braid. "Christmas Eve is the best night for telling fortunes."

But I lowered my eyes, not returning her smile, and remembered that Christmas Eve so long ago. If I had not been such a frightened child, how different my life would have been. If my grandmother’s stories could be believed, I would not be a servant now but the mistress -- had I possessed the courage to take that lady’s burning coals. But such thoughts were disloyal, and I chased them out of my head.

To my mistress, I said, "I think I’ll go to bed early."

"Nonsense!" she laughed as I fastened her carnelian necklace around her white throat. "You’ve been pestering me for nearly a year. Well, now I will tell you exactly what you must do to see into your future. Listen closely, my dear."

In spite of myself, I inclined my head toward her as she bent to tie her shoes of fine green leather. "When my husband and I go to Midnight Mass, you will be alone in the house."

I shivered. "Mistress, if it’s all the same to you, I’d much rather go to church with you . . ."

"Listen to yourself!" She sounded vastly amused. "When did you suddenly get to be so pious? When we’re gone, stoke up the kitchen fire so it’s good and warm. Then take off all your clothes . . ."

"Mistress!" I could feel my face go hot and red.

"Why so modest? You will be all alone in the house and not a soul shall see you. When you’re naked, take the broom, and, walking backwards, sweep the kitchen from the window to the door, then look over your left shoulder. When I come home from church," she said, rising from her chair and kissing my forehead, "you must tell me what you saw."

Not quite understanding what my mistress expected me to see, I handed her cloak to her and saw her to the door. When I could no longer hear the harness bells on the horses pulling my master and mistress’ sleigh, I retreated to my room. If she asked me whether I had performed her fortune telling experiment, I would invent something, tell her I had looked over my left shoulder and seen her favorite cat licking its paw or that I had seen a vision of an apron full of burning coals turning into golden coins. Then my face went feverish, and I remembered that I had never lied to her. Somehow I sensed that she would know if I lied.

So I padded through the empty house to the kitchen, stoked up the fire, and shed every piece of clothing. Taking the broom and walking backwards, I began to sweep. This would only take a few minutes. Then I could go to bed early, for tomorrow I had a huge feast to prepare for the miller’s apprentices. Yawning, I swept backwards until I had reached the kitchen door. Sleepily, I glanced over my left shoulder, and then quaked with shame at what I saw. There in the shadowy alcove, at the table where I rolled dough and kneaded bread, sat my master with his mug of beer. This time, instead of gazing into his beer, he stared straight at me with eyes that were both famished and mournful. With a shriek, I grabbed my bundle of clothes, ran to my room, and bolted the door.

When my mistress returned from midnight mass and knocked on my door, her face glowed from the ride through the winter night. One perfect snowflake still clung like a star in her flame-colored hair. She smiled at me as fondly as she always did, touched my face, and whispered excitedly, "So dear, what did you see?"

"How dare you?" In my humiliation and outrage, I struck at her, my hand grazing the side of her cheek.

Her eyes clouded with tears as she staggered backwards, crying my name. But I drowned her out with my accusations, not caring if her husband heard. "That was some dirty trick you played on me. In the morning, I’m packing my bags and going to my sister’s." In truth, I did not know which sister I would go to, but I knew I would be gone.

My mistress, meanwhile, sank to her knees and wept until her shoulders heaved. "Why do you hate me? What did I do?" she asked, so guilelessly that it seemed an even deeper betrayal. If she wanted me to spell it out for her, I was more than willing to oblige.

"You made me sweep your kitchen naked while your husband was lurking in the alcove and gawking at me over his beer."

Her face went so pale that for a moment I thought she would faint. I sank to my knees and touched the place where I had hit her. Still crying, she covered my hand with her own. Her skin was so cold to my touch, as if she were stone and no longer human.

"It was my husband you saw?" she asked in a tone of such fear that I knew with a sickening flood of remorse that I had wronged her.

"Yes," I said, crying now myself.

"My husband was beside me in church the entire time," she said. "Right now he’s in the stable unharnessing the horses." She took a deep breath. "The man you saw when you looked over your left shoulder was the man you will marry. You know what that means, don’t you?" She ran her ringed hand over my hair and laughed softly while the tears fell from her face. "That means that I, very soon, will die."

At that, I pulled her into my room, bolted the door, and spent the rest of the night trying to comfort her, swearing that what she said would never come to pass. But it did. Before spring could melt the snow, a fever spread through the valley, taking many children and old people. It also took my mistress.

At her grave, I wept bitterly. Beside me, her husband wept with such shuddering grief that I half-feared he would follow her into the grave. It seemed he was broken, just as I was broken, that he would now sicken and die, just as my father had died after my mother’s death. He could not go on without her, just as I could not bear to go without the mistress who had been my love. And because we were both so utterly destroyed in our loss and so lonely and hurt, it came to pass exactly as she said it would. The following spring we were married. On her grave I made an oath never to forget her. He vowed to name our firstborn daughter after her.


The Visit

Just the other day, my neighbor told me this story. He loved to tell wild stories, especially when he was drinking, so you have to take it with a grain of salt. And he was a little scatter-brained, too. You know the way old people are. But when my wife heard the story, she nodded and said she’d heard a similar story. She said it’s a local legend and that, mixed in with all the fanciful improbabilities, there might even be a tiny grain of truth.

Well, in our part of the world, long ago, before TV and the Internet, people had all kinds of crazy superstitions about the days between Christmas and the Feast of the Epiphany. Even today we like to dress up for the holidays. Especially the ladies like to do fancy things to their hair and wear their best clothes. But there’s also this superstition -- God only knows where it comes from -- that it’s bad luck to do your laundry during the twelve days of Christmas. Even to this day, the old people swear that hanging your clothes outside to dry -- and sometimes we do get unseasonably warm weather that’s good for drying clothes outdoors -- is an invitation to disaster. Whatever’s hanging outside, they say, belongs to the Wild Hunter and he’ll sweep down on the storm winds to snatch away both the article of clothing and the person to whom it belongs. Hey, I’m not saying I believe any of this. But here’s the story the old guy told me.

He said that way back when, back when his great-great-great-great grandfather was young, there was this beautiful young woman, a miller’s wife. She started out as a lowly servant girl, then married her boss after his first wife died. Despite her unglamorous pedigree, she strong-willed and proud. She didn’t let her husband or anyone tell her what to do. People said she got her fine airs on account of being a witch. Her powers had been granted to her by the elves who lived under the earth. Everything she needed to get done -- sewing, mending, darning socks, what have you -- the elves did for her at night. She would leave the torn shirt or the sock with the hole in it on the kitchen table, place a few coins beside it, and then in the morning, she would find it mended.

Every year at Christmas, she got the most wonderful gifts from the elves, who gave presents in the holiday season just like people did. One year they gave her a magic wand, so small and unobtrusive that she could carry it around in her apron pocket. To keep her cows in one place, all she had to do was trace an invisible circle in the grass. And one year she got a magic scythe that cut hay by itself. But the third gift the elves gave her was the most precious. After five married years without children, she finally got pregnant. Her neighbors liked to joke that she needed all the help she could get for that. Her husband’s previous wife hadn’t been able to have any children either, so the infertility must have been his. At any rate, she had everything she could have wanted in life.

But dreams-come-true and gifts that come too easy can make a person uppity. The miller’s wife wouldn’t follow any rules but her own, and she certainly wasn’t going to obey any silly superstitions about not doing her laundry during the twelve days of Christmas. When her servant girl refused to do the laundry, she gave the job to an addled old woman who couldn’t tell the difference between December and June. So the old woman washed table linens, bed linens, and what have you. But she also washed one of her mistress’ dresses. The mistress herself hung the wash outside to dry. It was one of those unusually bright winter days with the warm Fön wind coming over the mountains -- an ideal wind for drying laundry. When her husband saw her hanging her dress up on the line with all the other things, he went white in the face and begged her to at least take her dress inside, but she only laughed at him.

Toward late afternoon, the wind grew stronger and stronger, rippling her dress until the young woman, sitting alone inside the house, felt as though an invisible hand was stroking the length of her body. Then her servant girl burst into her room and told her in a strangled voice that there was a man at the door. A tremor passed over the young mistress as she went to confront her uninvited guest. Dressed in green hunting clothes, he appeared to be as young and handsome as anything, and yet his hair and beard were white as frost. Before she could even ask what he wanted, he held out his hand to her and inquired, "Will you ride away with me?"

The young woman was speechless. Her servant girl cowered in the kitchen, and the old woman who had washed the laundry ran moaning down the hall. But once the young woman realized who the stranger was and what he had come for, she knew what to do. Pulling her shoulders back and proudly lifting her head, she drew her wand from her pocket and threw it on the threshold so that it rested between her and the strange man. The wand was fashioned of magic wood, and no one could step across it.

"Go on your way," she told the visitor, and then, confident in her safety, she half-turned to go back to her room when he stepped on the wand. Under his boot sole, it burned, and then dwindled to ash.

Without stopping to think, she ran for her magic scythe. Pushing past the man and out the door, she hacked her dress down from the clothesline. But as soon as she had freed the dress, the wind blew it straight into her open doorway where it landed at the stranger’s feet. That was when she cried out. Even her servants knew she was afraid.

"Will you ride away with me?" Again the man came toward her and held out his hand.

"No," she snapped. "Everything I want is here. I have the house and the mill and the fields beyond. I have a husband and servants."

None of this made any impression on the stranger who reached for her, about to seize her around the waist and lift her up on his horse.

"No!" She backed away from him and held out her arms to protect herself. "I’m pregnant." She said this as her last defense, for she knew that the Lady the Wild Hunter served was the protectress of all mothers.

When she had spoken these words, the stranger nodded, as if to release her forever from his claims, but before he drew his hand away, he gently touched her breast. That was when she felt the stirring inside her, as if a fire had been kindled there, a hearth of fragrant coal. The unspeakable longing seized her even as he mounted his gray horse and rode away without looking back.

The young man with the white hair and beard was all anyone in the household could talk about for days afterward. Of course, the young woman acted as proud as ever. When New Year’s came, she even dared to wash again, and she hung her best dress and the nightgown she had made for her unborn child outside in the wind. It seemed she hoped he would return for her, that he would offer her his hand and ask her to ride away with him, and this time she would give him her consent. But the saying goes that the Wild Hunter visits a woman once and only once.

"Yes," my old neighbor told me. "He. . ." Then the old man paused for a moment to name the Hunter’s many names. He waved his hand to point at the wind tossed birch trees outside the tavern window. "He only chooses women who are fearless. If they cower or hesitate, he leaves them behind, and never comes again."


The Apple Trees in Lady Holle’s Garden

The Wild Hunter did come back for her many years later, albeit in another guise that she did not recognize at first.

It came to pass that the apple trees in Lady Holle’s heavenly garden no longer bore fruit. But far below on the earth, there lived an old woman, a miller’s widow, who had an orchard of the loveliest apple trees that had ever been. Every spring the trees burst into clouds of blossoms that drove the bees half-mad. Every autumn the branches sank to the ground from the weight of all the ripe apples. The beautiful Lady Holle spoke to the Wild Hunter, whose name was also Death. "Ride down to earth and bring me the old woman. She has lived to see her great-grandchildren. Surely she has lived on earth long enough. Now it’s time she came home to me."

So Death rode his gray horse down to the Earth and knocked on the old woman’s door. When she opened, she saw an old man with a youth’s golden hair. She also noticed that he carried a scythe that looked similar to the magic scythe she had once possessed. The old woman was not at all pleased that he had come to call.

"Old woman," said Death. "You have lived on this earth for many years now, more than most, and my good mistress, the beautiful Lady Holle, wants you to come home to her. The apple trees in her garden no longer bear fruit, but your orchard here on Earth is like a garden of paradise. That is why she has chosen you to tend the trees in her garden."

The old woman, who hadn’t the least desire to leave behind her earthly existence, leaned forward, betraying no fear. "I just have one request. Let’s play cards first. There’s nothing I like better than a good game. Shall we make a bet? If you win, I shall go with you. But if I win, you must go away and leave me in peace."

Thinking it wouldn’t be too difficult to beat an old woman at cards, Death agreed. What he didn’t know was that she played every Saturday night at the village tavern. She knew all the tricks. After shuffling and dealing, she won the game in a matter of minutes. Death’s forehead rumpled in dismay.

"What a cunning player you are," he said. "Could we play just one more game?" This time he shuffled and dealt the cards, but the old woman won again.

"Please," said Death, a tone of desperation creeping into his voice, "just one more time?"

"All right," the old woman said squarely. "But you know the rules. You can’t play more than three times to win a bet. The third game is the last."

So they played the third time. Again the old woman won. "Now, go on your way," she told him sternly. "What’s it to me if your lady’s apple trees no longer bear fruit? I’m quite happy with my garden here on Earth, and I’d thank you to leave me alone."

Sadly Death returned to Holle’s garden and cringed in embarrassment as his mistress berated him. "You came back without the old woman? What’s wrong with you? What old woman can escape Death? And what about my apple trees?" Lady Holle shook her head. "I will no longer have you living with me in my garden until you bring the old woman home."

If Death was momentarily stumped, he was also patient. He waited until the following December, for during the Twelve Nights, everyone had to open their door to whomever knocked. Then he mounted his gray horse, rode down to earth, and rapped on the old woman’s door. When she opened, she glowered at him so fiercely that he winced. But what could she do? During the Twelve Nights, she was obliged to receive every guest, even Death.

"During the Twelve Nights," said Death, "everyone is allowed to make one wish. My wish is this: I want to take you with me to the gates of my Lady’s garden and I want you to take one look inside that garden. I promise you, if you don’t want to stay there, I’ll bring you back here."

"You know very well," said the old woman, "that I can’t refuse a wish made during the Twelve Nights. But you must swear an oath to me, and we both know that an oath sworn during the Twelve Nights is twelve times as binding as any other oath."

Death swore that he would bring her straight back to her home on Earth if she didn’t want to stay in Holle’s garden. Reluctantly the old woman clambered up behind him on his saddle, and off they galloped to the garden of paradise. When they arrived, Death opened the gates just a crack and whispered, "Look inside."

The old woman poked her head in the gate and saw, seated on the grass in the middle of that garden the same beautiful woman she had seen so many years ago as a young girl in the ruined castle on the snowy mountainside. For a moment, she forgot to breathe. Around the lady sat a circle of lovely young women whose radiant youth seemed such a mockery to her old age that she had to look away. That was when she noticed the apple trees. They were dying. Those trees were no more than dwindling skeletons with a few brown leaves clinging to the twigs.

"How do you like the garden?" Death asked her gently. "How do you like my Lady?"

"I like her very much," the old woman murmured. "But look at those girls sitting with her on the grass. And now look at me," she said forcefully. "Look at how old and worn out I am. What would your beautiful lady want with such an old woman?"

Death spoke tenderly. "Didn’t you know that if you go into the garden and let my lady take your hand that you will grow young again? On my oath, she will give you back your youth."

"What pretty speeches you make!" the old woman snorted. "If your Lady can make me young again, why didn’t you tell me that in the first place instead of making me play cards with you?"

Before Death could reply, she decided to see for herself if what he said could be true. Sliding down from the saddle, she walked through the gate and over the grass, studded with wildflowers, even though it was midwinter and the snow lay thick on the Earth below. It saddened her immeasurably to see those dying apple trees. But when she looked at the lady, she felt oddly light, as if she had drunk a cup of elderberry wine.

The lady rose to greet her and held out her hands. Her face was even more dazzling when she smiled. "I have been waiting for you for so long," she said, "and now you have finally come home to me."

How could it be that such a vision of a lady would be overjoyed to see her, the old woman pondered. One of the attending young women handed the lady a golden dish of burning coals that smelled sweeter than all the flowers in the garden.

"Please," the lady whispered. "This time don’t be afraid."

"This time, I’m not afraid," said the old woman, holding out her apron to receive the coals which the lady poured on to the cloth. Pressing the glowing warmth to her belly, the old woman closed her eyes and listened to the blackbirds sing. When she opened her eyes again, Holle’s smooth hands touched her face and smoothed back her hair.

"You made me wait so many years."

Neither Death nor the young women in the garden could rightly say which one of the two had spoken those words -- Holle or the old woman. But then there was no old woman. In her place, a young girl wept with joy to see that her apron was filled with pieces of gold. The lady folded her in her arms. And from that day onward, the girl tended the apple trees in Holle’s garden. In spring, the blossoms were so lush that the branches seemed to float among the clouds, and in autumn, the apples were so heavy and ripe that the boughs sank down to touch the Earth below.




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