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Weird Tales, JULY 1940

Beyond the Frame

By MARIA MORAVSKY

Blazing office buildings struggled for a place in the frame with another, an older city of gilded spires and many-colored roofs. The past won.

HELENA WOLNA, a young Polish librarian in the Slavonic Department, sat at her desk, looking wistfully at an old painting.

The picture hung opposite a window overlooking a downtown square. The lights of a distant skyscraper were reflected in the glass protecting the canvas, and the torches of an ancient procession mingled with the reflection of electric lamps.

Helena looked at the painting, vague behind the shining glass, and saw the interposed images of the candle-lighted Polish cathedral and the blazing office buildings struggling for the place in the frame.

Impatiently she pulled the window-shade lower. Freed from the competition of the intruding reflection, the painting was revealed in all its alien beauty. Winged Hussars galloped on both sides of a gilded carriage, escorting a frail, very young girl to the cathedral. Their faces, sharply lighted by torches, were full of animation which had survived centuries.

AH Helena knew about that fragment of her old country was gleaned from historical books. But she had a romantic obsession to see it. Her racial memory seemed to know the half-forgotten scene. . . .

The painting now seemed blurred. Perhaps the glass was covered with the vapor of the misty evening. She looked closer and saw with astonishment that the glass was missing altogether.

The ancient scene seemed now distant. A thick curtain of fog hung between it and the girl. Helena stretched her hands toward the dimmed figures, signalling them subconsciously to come nearer. . . . And then, the torches flickered.

The picture gradually became alive. The carriages moved farther and farther, then the galloping horses stopped suddenly. What had happened? Helena moved forward, peering through the fog.

Groping through the reddish darkness, she stumbled over something hard and thought without surprise that she was crossing the frame, the threshold behind which lay ancient life.

The dark frame broadened. Its inner edge stretched endlessly, expanding into a dark corridor with ashen walls, high ceiling and polished, slippery floor. Further and further she walked along this dark, subway-like tunnel with a misty opening at the end.

Further and further. . . . The opening broadened, the mist dispersed. At last she reached the end of the tunnel. A strong wind scented with strange memories blew into her face. The city of many colored tiled roofs and gilded spires shone in the distance, illuminated by the sun's afterglow triumphing over the fog. The evening was delayed, the torches looked pale.

Along the road leading to the glittering city hurried innumerable carriages, ox-carts, horsemen, and peasants in heavy-soled boots. Peacock feathers adorned their hats, bells jingled from their belts. Their women in ample billowing skirts sewn around with multicolored ribbons were like living rainbows.

They sang, laughed, gossiped.

"Is it true that King Jagiello has promised to baptize his people if our Krolewna marries him?"

"Oh, yes! They will be baptized in batches. They will step into the river, and the priests will pray over the water, to con...

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