The Prince of Leaves
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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

The Prince of Leaves

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.

Ariston began to despair of the success of his passion, but he was too speedily obliged to confess that this very time, which he complained of so justly, and in which he felt so keenly the hopelessness of his love, had, notwithstanding, been the most happy period of his life.

A year after his arrival on the island he celebrated the return of that memorable day on which he had first beheld Ravissante. In the evening he gave her a fête in the forest of hyacinths. Marvellous music was heard in every part of the forest without any one being able to discover from whence the sounds proceeded. All that was sung by these invisible musicians tenderly expressed the love of Ariston for the Princess; they concluded their admirable concert by these words, which were repeated several times: —

Nor reason nor relentless Fate
My sufferings can terminate!
Without one ray of hope to cheer,
I feel my heart consuming here.
How great his power Love never knew
Till from those eyes his arrows flew.

After the music, there appeared suddenly an elegant collation under a tent of silver gauze, elegantly looped up with ropes of pearls; it was open on the side towards the sea, which bounded the forest in that direction; and was illuminated by a great number of chandeliers formed of brilliants, which emitted an effulgence nearly equal to that of the sun. It was by this light that the nymphs of the court of Ravissante pointed out to her an inscription at the entrance of the pavilion, written in letters of gold upon a ruby of immense magnitude, supported by twelve little cupids, who flew away as soon as the Princess had heard this inscription read, which consisted of these lines: —

Where’er throughout the world those lovely eyes
May the devoted hearts of men enchain,
For one as true as in this desert sighs
Those lovely eyes may search, sweet maid, in vain.
But through that world your glory to proclaim,
And every mortal to your altar bring,
Princess, we haste to bid the trump of Fame
With praise of beauty so divine to ring.

The fête continued, and Prince Ariston had at least the pleasure of engrossing the leisure of the Princess, if he could not occupy her heart. But he was deprived even of this gratification by a surprising spectacle which appeared far out at sea, and attracted the curiosity and attention of Ravissante and of all the court. The object approached, and they distinguished that it was an arbour formed of interlaced myrtle and laurel branches, closed on all sides, and propelled with great rapidity by an infinite number of winged fish. This sight was the more novel to Ravissante as she had never before seen anything of the colour of this arbour.

The Fairy having foreseen that it would cause some misfortune to her nephew, had absolutely banished it from her island. The Princess watched for the approach of the strange object with an impatience which appeared to Ariston a bad omen for his love. She had not long to wait, for the winged fish brought the arbour in a few moments to the foot of the rock, and the attention of the young Princess and of all the Court was redoubled.

The arbour opened, and out of it came a young man of marvellous beauty, who appeared about sixteen or seventeen years of age. He was clothed in branches of myrtle, curiously interlaced, with a scarf composed of various-coloured roses. This handsome stranger experienced as much astonishment as he occasioned. The beauty of Ravissante did not leave him at liberty to amuse himself by observing the rest of the splendid scene, the brilliancy of which had attracted him from a distance. He approached the Princess with a grace which she had never observed but in herself.

“I am so surprised,” said he to her, “at all I find on these shores, that I have lost the power of expressing my astonishment. Is it possible,” continued he, “that such a goddess (for a goddess you surely must be) has not temples throughout the universe?”

“I am not a goddess,” said Ravissante, colouring; “I am an unfortunate princess banished from the states of the King, my father, to avoid I know not what misfortune, which they assure me has been predicted from the moment of my birth.”

“You appear to me much more formidable,” replied the handsome stranger, “than those stars which may have some evil influence on your fate, and over what misfortune could not such perfect beauty triumph! I feel that it can vanquish everything,” he added, sighing, “since it has conquered in a moment a heart which I had always flattered myself should remain insensible; but, Madam,” continued he, without giving her time to reply, “I must, against my will, withdraw from this charming place, where I see you only, and where I have lost my peace of mind; I will return soon, if Cupid prove favourable to me.” After these words, he re-entered the arbour, and in a few moments he was lost to sight.

Prince Ariston was so astounded and distressed by this adventure, that he had not at first the strength to speak; a rival had appeared in a manner as wonderful as unexpected; this rival had seemed to him only too charming, and he thought he had observed in the beautiful eyes of the Princess, whilst the stranger addressed her, a languor which he had often desired to see, but which till then he had never detected.

Agonized by a despair which he dared not betray, he conducted Ravissante to the Palace, where she passed part of the night, occupied by the recollection of her agreeable adventure, and made her nymphs relate each circumstance over and over again, as though she had not been herself present. As for Prince Ariston, he went to consult the Fairy, who, he hoped, might possess some charm to allay the violent grief under which he laboured; but she had no antidote for jealousy, and they do say none has ever been discovered to this day.

The Prince and the Fairy, however, redoubled their enchantments to defend the entrance to the rock from this formidable stranger, whom they took for a magician. They surrounded the island with frightful monsters, who occupied a great space on the sea, and who, excited by their own natural ferocity, and by the power of the spell, seemed to assure Ariston and the Fairy that it would be an impossibility to take from them the beautiful Princess whom they so jealously guarded.

Ravissante seemed to feel more vividly the power of the charms of the handsome stranger by the grief which she experienced at the obstacles opposed to his return to the island; and she resolved, at all events, to be revenged on Prince Ariston.

She began to hate him, and that alone was ample vengeance. Ariston was inconsolable at finding he had provoked the hatred of Ravissante by a passion which it appeared to him should have produced just the contrary effect. The Princess mourned in secret the forgetfulness of the stranger: it appeared to her that love should have ere this made him keep his promise to return. Sometimes, also, she ceased to desire it, when she remembered the dangers with which Ariston and the Fairy had surrounded the approach to the island.

One day that she was occupied in these various reflections whilst walking alone on the sea-shore — for Ariston dared not, as formerly, follow her, and the Princess refused even to attend the fêtes with which he was accustomed to entertain her, — she arrived at the same spot which the adventure with the unknown visitor had rendered so remarkable, and was struck by the appearance of a tree of extraordinary beauty floating towards the rock. The colour, which was the same as that of the myrtle arbour of the stranger, gave her a sensation of joy.

The tree approached the rock, and the monsters attempted to defend the entrance, but a little breeze agitated the leaves of the tree, and having blown off a few, and driven them against the monsters, they yielded to these light and harmless weapons, and even ranged themselves with a show of respect in a circle around the tree, which approached the rock without further impediment, and opened, disclosing to view the stranger seated on a throne of verdure; he rose precipitately at the sight of Ravissante, and spoke to her with so much eloquence and so much love, that after she had in a few words acquainted him with her history, she could not conceal from him that she was touched by his devotion, and rejoiced at his return. “But,” said she, “is it fair that you should know the sentiments with which you have inspired me before I am informed of the name even of him who has called them forth?”

“I had no intention of concealing it from you,” replied the charming unknown; “but when near you, one can speak of nothing but you; however, as you wish to know, I obey you, and beg to acquaint you that I am called the Prince of Leaves: I am the son of Spring and of a sea nymph, a relation of Amphitrite, which is the cause of my power extending over the sea: my empire comprises all parts of the earth which recognise the influence of Spring; but I chiefly inhabit a happy island where the gentle season which my father bestows reigns perpetually. There the air is always pure, the fields ever covered with flowers; the sun never scorches, but only approaches sufficiently near to illuminate it; night is banished, and it is therefore called the Island of Day. It is inhabited by a people as amiable as the climate is agreeable. It is in this place that I offer you an empire, sweet and calm, and where my heart above all things will acknowledge your sovereignty. You must, however, beautiful Princess, consent to be carried off from this rock, where you are retained in veritable bondage: notwithstanding the honours they pay you with a view to disguise the real state of the case.”

Ravissante could not, however, make up her mind to follow the Prince of Leaves into his empire, in spite of the fear which she had of the power of the Fairy, and the suggestions of her love; she hoped that her perseverance in rejecting the vows of Ariston, would at length cause him to resolve to conquer his passion, and that the Fairy would then restore her to her father, from whom the Prince of Leaves might demand her hand.

The Prince of Leaves

“But I should at least wish,” said she to him, “to be able to send you word of what happens in this island, and I know not how that is possible, as everything I do is suspected and watched.”

“I will leave with you here,” said the Prince, “the subjects of a friend of mine, who is also a prince. They will constantly attend on you, and by them you can often send me intelligence; but remember, beautiful Princess, with what impatience I shall wait for it!” After these words, he approached the tree which had conveyed him, and having touched some of the leaves, two butterflies appeared, the one white and flame-colour, the other yellow and light-grey — the most beautiful in the world. As Ravissante gazed on them, the Prince of Leaves said, smiling, “I see you are surprised at the appearance of the confidants I give you; but these butterflies are not merely what they appear to be; it is a mystery which they will explain if you will permit them to talk to you.”

As he spoke, Ravissante perceived in the distance some of her nymphs, who came to seek her in her solitude, and she begged the Prince of Leaves to re-embark; he obeyed, notwithstanding the infinite regret he felt at quitting her, but he did not depart quickly enough to avoid observation; they informed Ariston and the Fairy of his return to the island, and from that moment, in order to take away from the beautiful Ravissante the means, and even the hope of seeing him again, they erected a tower on the summit of the rock formed of the same stone; and in order to render it more entirely secure, as the guard of living monsters had proved insufficient, they caused the tower and rock to be invisible to all those who should come to seek her, not daring again to trust to ordinary enchantments.

Ravissante was in despair at being immured in so cruel and impregnable a prison. Prince Ariston had not concealed from her that he had rendered it invisible; he had even attempted to make her accept this care for her safety as a proof of his tender devotion; but Ravissante felt her hatred and contempt for him increase daily, and he dared no longer enter her presence.

The butterflies, however, had not quitted her, and she often regarded them with pleasure as having come from the Prince of Leaves. One day that she was still more sad than usual, and musing, on a terrace at the top of the tower, the flame-coloured butterfly flew on to one of the vases filled with flowers, which ornamented the balustrade. “Why,” said he, all of a sudden to the Princess, “do you not send me to the Prince of Leaves, he will undoubtedly come to your relief?”

Ravissante was at first so astonished at hearing the butterfly speak, although her lover had prepared her for the novelty, that she was for some minutes unable to answer; however, the name of the Prince of Leaves assisting to dissipate her surprise, “I was so astonished,” said she at length, “to hear a butterfly speak like ourselves, that I could not sooner reply to you. I can well believe that you could go to apprise the Prince of Leaves of my misfortune, but what can he do? — only distress himself uselessly. He cannot find me in a place which the cruelty of my enemies has taken care to render invisible.”

“It is less so than you think,” replied the yellow butterfly, flying round the Princess in order to join in the conversation: “a little while ago, I surveyed your prison, I flew and even swam round it; it disappears when one is on the water, but when one is elevated in the air it ceases to be invisible. No doubt the Fairy did not consider that road so easy as to require the same defence as that by the sea. I was about to give you this hint,” continued the butterfly, “when my brother broke the silence which we have hitherto preserved.” This agreeable piece of news restored hope to the Princess.

“Is it possible,” said she, “that Ariston can have neglected any precaution which could gratify his cruelty and his love? No doubt his power, like that of the Fairy, which is unbounded over earth and sea, does not extend to the air.” This was precisely the reason which had prevented the Prince and the Fairy from rendering the tower and the rock invisible from the sky. “But,” added Ravissante, after some minutes’ reflection, “can the Prince of Leaves have any power in the air?”

“No, Madam,” replied the flame-coloured butterfly, “he can do nothing, and your prison would be invisible to him though he be a demi-god, as it would be to a mortal; but — ”

“The Prince will then be as miserable as myself,” interrupted the sorrowful Ravissante, bursting into a flood of tears, which added to her beauty, and which affected extremely the two butterflies; “and I feel I shall be more distressed at his sorrows than at my own! What ought I, then, to do?” continued she, sighing.

“Send me off at once,” replied the flame-coloured butterfly, briskly; “I will go and apprise the Prince of Leaves of your misfortunes, and he will come to the rescue: although his power does not extend to the air, he has a prince amongst his friends who can do anything in it, and of whom he can dispose as of himself — but my brother can inform you of all this during my absence. Adieu, beautiful Princess,” continued the butterfly, flying over the balustrade; “cease to weep, and count on my diligence, I will fly as rapidly as your wishes.”

After these words, the butterfly was lost in the air; and the Princess felt that charming and lively sensation of joy which the hope of soon beholding a beloved one inspires. She returned to her apartment, and the yellow butterfly followed her; she was extremely impatient to know from what prince her lover hoped for assistance; to end her doubts, she begged the yellow butterfly to tell her all that could contribute to augment or flatter her hopes. She placed him on a little basket of flowers, which she carried to a table near her, and the butterfly, who considered it an honour to please her, commenced his recital.

“Near the Island of Day, where the Prince of Leaves reigns, there is another, smaller but equally agreeable; the ground there is always covered with flowers, and they affirm that it is a boon granted to our country by Flora, to immortalize the memory of the happy days when she came there to find Zephyr: for they contend that it was on our island that they used to meet, when their love was still new and secret. It is called the “Island of Butterflies.” The inhabitants are not of the form that you see me under. They are little winged men, very pretty, very gallant, very amorous, and so volatile that they hardly love the same thing for even one day.

“Whilst the golden age reigned on the earth, Cupid, who at that time flattered himself that the hearts of all mankind would be ever fond and faithful, feared that by the facility with which we flew about the world, we might teach mortals the agreeable art of changing in love, which this god called an error capable of utterly destroying the happiness of his empire. In order to interdict all communication between us and the rest of the universe, he came to our island, touched the ground with one of his arrows, and rising again upon a brilliant cloud which had borne him thither, ‘If again,’ said he, to the inhabitants of the island, ‘you wish to traverse the air, like the gods, I have taken sure means of vengeance; you can no longer, by your dangerous society, trouble the happiness of my empire.’ After these words he disappeared.

“The threats of Cupid did not, however, take from the Butterflies the desire for change, nor even for flying, if it was only for the pleasure of occasionally quitting the earth. Some of them mounted into the air, and found that they had the same facility as they possessed before Cupid had forbidden them to do so; but as soon as they passed the limits of the Island they were changed into little insects, such as you now behold me, all of different colours, avenging Cupid having intended to mark by this variety how much they were given to inconstancy.

“Surprised at their metamorphosis, they returned to our island, and as soon as they touched the ground they were restored to their original form. Since that fatal time the vengeance of Cupid has always continued amongst us; when we quit the earth, nothing of our nature, as men, remains, except our mind and the liberty of speaking like them; but we have never made use of it out of our island, not choosing to make this act of vengeance celebrated by publishing it ourselves to the universe, or to alarm those who, like us, are inclined to inconstancy. We have, however, the pleasure of seeing, in our travels through the world, that fate has revenged us on Cupid without our assistance; for Inconstancy reigns with equal power to his own in the whole extent of his empire. Some centuries after this change took place in the realm of the butterflies, the Sun, that seemed to take pleasure in making it bring forth flowers, was so enchanted with his handiwork, that he fell in love with a rose of extraordinary beauty; he was tenderly beloved by her, and she sacrificed to him all the care bestowed on her by the zephyrs.

“At the end of some time the rose became of a different form to the rest; the Sun immediately caused others to blow, resembling her, in order that she might be less remarked in this quantity of flowers, which then appeared a new kind of plant. It has since been called ‘the rose of a hundred leaves.’ At length, from the Sun and this rose sprung a demi-god, whom the Sun destined to reign for ever in our island. Until then we had had no sovereign, but the son of a god who favoured so constantly our earth was received as our ruler with extreme joy; they called him the Prince of the Butterflies. It is this Prince, beautiful Princess, who can assist you in the air, and whom the adventure I am about to relate has rendered such a fast friend of the Prince of Leaves.

“In a country far removed from that of the butterflies there reigns a Fairy, who dwells in a very dark cavern: they call her the Fairy of the Grotto. She is of an immense size; her complexion is a mixture of blue, green, and yellow. Her face is almost as formidable as her power, and she is so dreaded by mortals that there is not one bold enough to approach the country which she inhabits. One day the Prince of the Butterflies, travelling for his pleasure in the neighbourhood of his empire, perceived the Fairy, and surprised at this rencontre he followed her for some time to see what would become of so fearful a monster. She did not remark that she was observed, for the Prince, although the offspring of the Sun, had not been able to obtain from fate the liberty of travelling under any other form than that which we all took on leaving the kingdom, because he was born since the time when Cupid had made us feel his vengeance.

“However, he was not inconstant, like all his subjects, and Cupid, by way of showing him a little favour on that account, had permitted him, when he changed his form, to be of one colour only, and that colour should be the one which signifies Fidelity. Under this form he followed the Fairy as far as he pleased, and he saw her enter her dismal abode. Impelled by curiosity, he flew in after her; but what a sight awaited him at the bottom of this cavern! He there saw a young lady, more beautiful and more brilliant than the day, reclining on a bed of turf, and who appeared in extreme grief. From time to time she dried the tears which fell from her lovely eyes; her distress and the languor of her appearance added to her charms.

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