The Prince of Leaves, The Countess de Murat
The Prince of Leaves
The Countess de Murat
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There once was a princess, named Ravissante by a Fairy, a near relative of the Queen, who predicted that the wit and the charms of the young Princess would surpass all that had ever before been known or even could be expected from her present beauty; but she added to this agreeable prediction, that the perfect felicity of the Princess would depend entirely on her heart remaining faithful to its first love.

The Prince of Leaves

The Countess de Murat

In one of those parts of the world, commonly called Fairyland, on which poets alone have the right to bestow names, there formerly reigned a King so renowned for his rare qualities, that he attracted the esteem and admiration of all the Princes of his time. He had, many years past, lost his wife, the Queen, who had never brought him a son; but he had ceased to desire one since the birth of a daughter of such marvellous beauty, that from the moment she was born he lavished all his affection and tenderness upon her.

She was named Ravissante, by a Fairy, a near relative of the Queen, who predicted that the wit and the charms of the young Princess would surpass all that had ever before been known or even could be expected from her present beauty; but she added to this agreeable prediction, that the perfect felicity of the Princess would depend entirely on her heart remaining faithful to its first love.

In such a case, who can feel assured of a happy destiny? The King, who desired nothing so much as the happiness of Ravissante, heartily wished that it had been attached to any other condition, — but we cannot command our own fates. He begged the Fairy, a thousand times, to bestow on the young Ravissante the gift of constancy, as he had seen her give to others the gifts of intelligence and of beauty. But the Fairy, who was sufficiently wise not to deceive him respecting the extent of her power, frankly informed the King that it did not extend to the qualities of the heart. She, however, promised to use her utmost endeavour to impress the young Princess with the sentiments that would be likely to ensure her happiness.

Upon the faith of this promise, the King confided Ravissante to her care from the time she attained her fifth year, preferring to deprive himself of the pleasure of seeing her rather than run any risk of marring her fortune. The Fairy therefore carried off the little Princess, who was very soon consoled for leaving the Court of her father, by the delight and novelty of passing through the air in a brilliant little car.

On the fourth day after her departure the flying car stopped in the middle of the sea, upon a rock of a prodigious size — it was one entire shining stone, the colour of which was exactly that of the sky. The Fairy remarked with pleasure that the young Ravissante was enchanted with this colour, and she drew from it a happy omen for the future, as it was the colour which signifies fidelity.

Shortly after they had landed on it, the Fairy touched the rock with a golden wand which she held in her hand. The rock immediately opened, and Ravissante found herself with the Fairy, in the most beautiful palace in the world; the walls were of the same material as the rock, and the same colour prevailed in all the paintings and furniture, but it was so ingeniously mixed with gold and precious stones, that far from wearying the eye, it equally pleased in all.

The young Ravissante dwelt in this agreeable palace, with several beautiful maidens, whom the Fairy had transported from various countries to attend on and amuse the Princess, and she passed her infancy in the enjoyment of every pleasure suited to her age.

When she had attained her fourteenth year the Fairy again consulted the stars, in order to learn precisely when the heart of Ravissante would be touched with a passion which pleases even more than it alarms, however formidable it may appear to some; and she read distinctly in the stars that the fatal time approached when the destiny of the young Princess would be fulfilled.

The Fairy had a nephew who was indescribably dear to her: he was of the same age as Ravissante, born on the same day and at the same hour. She had found, in consulting the stars also for him, that they promised him the same fate as the Princess — that is to say, perfect happiness, provided he possessed fidelity which nothing could vanquish. In order to make him both loving and faithful she had only to let him behold Ravissante. No one could resist her eyes, and the Fairy hoped that the attentions of the young Prince would one day touch her heart.

He was the son of a King, brother of the Fairy; he was amiable; and the young Princess not only had never had a lover, she had not even seen a man since she had lived on the rock. The Fairy consequently flattered herself that the novelty of the pleasure of being tenderly beloved would perhaps inspire the Princess with a feeling of love in return. She therefore transported the Prince, who was named Ariston, to the same rock which served both as palace and prison for the beautiful Ravissante.

He there found her amusing herself with the young maidens of her Court, by weaving garlands of flowers in a forest of blue hyacinths, where they were then walking, for the Fairy, in bestowing on the rock the power of producing plants and trees, had limited the colour of them to that of the rock itself. She had already, some time since, apprised the Princess that Prince Ariston would soon visit the island, and she had added, in speaking of the Prince, everything that she thought likely to prejudice her in his favour; but she deceived herself this time; and on the arrival of Ariston, she observed nothing of that emotion or surprise which is the usual presage of a tender passion.

As for the Prince, his sentiments were in perfect accordance with the wishes of the Fairy: he became passionately in love from the moment he first set eyes on Ravissante; and it was not possible to see her without adoring her, for never were grace and beauty so perfectly united as in the person of this amiable princess.

She had the most exquisite complexion, and her dark brown hair added to its dazzling whiteness; her mouth had infinite charms, her teeth were more purely white than pearls; her eyes, the most beautiful in the world, were deep blue, and they were so brilliant, and at the same time so touching in their expression, that it was hardly possible to sustain their glances without yielding the heart at once to the fatal power which love had bestowed on them. She was not very tall, but perfectly beautiful, and all her movements were peculiarly graceful. Everything she did and said pleased invariably, and often a smile or a single word sufficed to prove that the charms of her mind equalled those of her person.

Such, and a thousand times more amiable than I can paint her, it had indeed been difficult for Ariston not to have become distractedly in love; but the Princess received his attentions with indifference, and did not appear in the least touched by them. The Fairy remarked it, and felt a grief which was only surpassed by that of the Prince. She had remarked in the stars that he who was destined to possess Ravissante would extend his power not only over the earth, but even over the sea.

Therefore her ambition made her wish that her nephew should touch the heart of the Princess as much as he desired the same effect from his love. She thought, however, that if the Prince were as learned as she was in the magic art, he might perhaps find some mode of rendering himself more attractive in the eyes of Ravissante; but the Fairy, who had never loved, was ignorant that the art of pleasing is not always to be discovered, although sought for with the utmost ardour and eagerness.

She taught the Prince, therefore, in a short time, all those sciences which are known only to the fairies. He had no pleasure in learning them, nor had he any idea of employing them but with regard to his passion for Ravissante. He began to make use of them by giving every day a new fête to the Princess. She admired the wonders produced, she deigned even sometimes to praise what appeared the most gallant in these efforts of the Prince to please her; but after all, she received his devotion and his attentions as the just homage due to her beauty, and she considered them amply repaid by her condescending to receive them without anger.

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