ONCE on a time there was a King and Queen of Iceland, who, after twenty years of married life, had a daughter. Her birth gave them the greatest pleasure, as they had so long despaired of having children to succeed to their throne. The young Princess was named Imis; her dawning charms promised from her infancy all the wonderful beauty which shone with so much brilliancy when she arrived at a maturer age.
No one in the universe would have been worthy of her had not Cupid, who thought it a point of honour to subject to his empire, some day, so marvellous a person, taken care to cause a Prince to be born in the same Court equally charming with that lovely Princess. He was called Philax, and was the son of a brother of the King of Iceland. He was two years older than the Princess, and they were brought up together with all the freedom natural to childhood and near relationship. The first sensations of their hearts were mutual admiration and affection. They could see nothing so beautiful as themselves, consequently they found no attraction in the world that could interfere with the passion each felt for the other, even without yet knowing its name.
The King and Queen saw this dawning affection with pleasure. They loved young Philax. He was a Prince of their blood, and no child had ever awakened fairer hopes. Everything seemed to favour the designs of Cupid to render Prince Philax some day the happiest of men. The Princess was about twelve years old when the Queen, who was exceedingly fond of her, desired to have her daughter's fortune told by a Fairy, whose extraordinary science was at that time making a great sensation.
She set out in search of her, taking with her Imis, who, in her distress at parting with Philax, wondered a thousand and a thousand times how anybody could trouble themselves about the future when the present was so agreeable. Philax remained with the King, and all the pleasures of the Court could not console him for the absence of the Princess.
The Queen arrived at the Fairy's castle. She was magnificently received; but the Fairy was not at home. Her usual residence was on the summit of a mountain at some distance from the castle, where she lived all alone and absorbed in that profound study which had rendered her famous throughout the world.
As soon as she heard of the Queen's arrival, she returned to the castle. The Queen presented the Princess to her, told her her name and the hour of her birth, which the Fairy knew as well as she did, though she had not been present at it. The Fairy of the Mountain knew everything. She promised the Queen an answer in two days, and then returned to the summit of the mountain. On the morning of the third day she came back to the castle, bade the Queen descend into the garden, and gave her some tablets of palm leaves closely shut, which she was ordered not to open except in the presence of the King.
The Queen, to satisfy her curiosity in some degree, asked her several questions respecting the fate of her daughter. "Great Queen," replied the Fairy of the Mountain, "I cannot precisely tell you what sort of misfortune threatens the Princess. I perceive only that love will have a large share in the events of her life, and that no beauty ever inspired such violent passions as that of Imis will do." It was not necessary to be a fairy to foresee that the Princess would have admirers. Her eyes already seemed to demand from all hearts the love which the Fairy assured the Queen would be entertained for her. In the meanwhile Imis, much less uneasy about her future destiny than at being separated from Philax, amused herself by gathering flowers; but thinking only of his love, and in her impatience to depart, she forgot the bouquet she had begun to compose, and unconsciously flung away the flowers she had amassed at first with delight. She hastened to rejoin the Queen, who was taking her leave of the Fairy of the Mountain. The Fairy embraced Imis, and gazing on her with the admiration she deserved--"Since it is impossible for me," she exclaimed, after a short silence, which had something mysterious in it--"since it is impossible for me, beautiful Princess, to alter in your favour the decrees of destiny, I will at least endeavour to enable you to escape the misfortunes it prepares for you." So saying, she gathered with her own hands a bunch of lilies of the valley, and addressing the youthful Imis--"Wear always these flowers which I give to you," said she; "they will never fade, and as long as you have them about your person, they will protect you from all the ills with which you are threatened by Fate." She then fastened the bouquet on the head-dress of Imis, and the flowers, obedient to the wishes of the Fairy, were no sooner placed in the hair of the Princess, than they adjusted themselves, and formed a sort of aigrette, the whiteness of which seemed only to prove that nothing could eclipse that of the complexion of the fair Imis.
The Queen took her departure, after having thanked the Fairy a thousand times, and went back to Iceland, where all the Court impatiently awaited the return of the Princess. Never did delight sparkle with more brilliancy and beauty than in the eyes of Imis and of her lover. The mystery involved in the plume of lilies of the valley was revealed to the King alone. It had so agreeable an effect in the beautiful brown hair of the Princess, that everybody took it simply for an ornament which she had herself culled in the gardens of the Fairy.
The Princess said much more to Philax about the grief she felt at her separation from him than about the misfortunes which the Fates had in store for her. Philax was, nevertheless, alarmed at them; but the happiness of being together was present, the evils, as yet, uncertain. They forgot them, and abandoned themselves to the delight of seeing each other again.
In the meanwhile, the Queen recounted to the King the events of her journey, and gave him the Fairy's tablets. The King opened and found in them the following words, written in letters of gold:--
Fate for Imis hides despair
Under hopes that seem most fair;
She will miserable be,
Through too much felicity.
The King and Queen were much distressed at this oracle, and vainly sought its explanation. They said nothing about it to the Princess, in order to spare her an unnecessary sorrow. One day that Philax was gone hunting, a pleasure he indulged in frequently, Imis was walking by herself in a labyrinth of myrtles. She was very melancholy because Philax was so long absent, and reproached herself for giving way to an impatience which he did not partake. She was absorbed in her thoughts, when she heard a voice, which said to her, "Why do you distress yourself, beautiful Princess? If Philax is not sensible of the happiness of being beloved by you, I come to offer you a heart a thousand times more grateful--a heart deeply smitten by your charms, and a fortune sufficiently brilliant to be desired by any one except yourself, to whom the whole world is subject." The Princess was much surprised at hearing this voice. She had imagined herself alone in the labyrinth, and, as she had not uttered a word, she was still more astonished that this voice had replied to her thoughts. She looked about her, and saw a little man appear in the air, seated upon a cockchafer. "Fear not, fair Imis," said he to her; "you have no lover more submissive than I am; and although this is the first time that I have appeared to you, I have long loved you, and daily gazed upon you." "You astonish me!" replied the Princess. "What! You have daily beheld me, and you know my thoughts? If so, you must be aware that it is useless to love me. Philax, to whom I have given my heart, is too charming ever to cease being its master, and although I am displeased with him, I never loved him so much as I do at this moment. But tell me who you are, and where you first saw me." "I am Pagan the Enchanter," replied he, "and have power over everybody but you. I saw you first in the gardens of the Fairy of the Mountain. I was hidden in one of the tulips you gathered. I took for a happy omen the chance which had induced you to choose the flower I was concealed in. I flattered myself that you would carry me away with you; but you were too much occupied with the pleasure of thinking of Philax. You threw away the flowers as soon as you had gathered them, and left me in the garden the most enamoured of beings. From that moment I have felt that nothing could make me happy but the hope of being loved by you. Think favourably of me, fair Imis, if it be possible, and permit me occasionally to remind you of my affection." With these words he disappeared, and the Princess returned to the palace, where the sight of Philax dissipated the alarm she had felt at this adventure. She was so eager to hear him excuse himself for the length of time he had been hunting, that she had nearly forgotten to inform him of what had occurred to her; but at last she told him what she had seen in the labyrinth of myrtles.
The young Prince, notwithstanding his courage, was alarmed at the idea of a winged rival, with whom he could not dispute the hand of the Princess upon equal terms. But the plume of lilies of the valley guaranteed him against the effect of enchantments, and the affection Imis entertained for him would not permit him to fear any change in her heart.
The day after the adventure in the labyrinth, the Princess, on awaking, saw fly into her chamber twelve tiny nymphs, seated on honey-bees, and bearing in their hands little golden baskets. They approached the bed of Imis, saluted her, and then went and placed their baskets on a table of white marble, which appeared in the centre of the apartment. As soon as the baskets were set upon it, they enlarged to an ordinary size. The nymphs having quitted them, again saluted Imis, and one of them, approaching the bed nearer than the rest, let something fall upon it, and then they all flew away.
The Princess, despite the astonishment which so strange a sight occasioned, took up what the nymph had dropped beside her. It was an emerald of marvellous beauty. It opened the moment the Princess touched it, and she found it contained a rose leaf, on which she read these verses.
Let the world learn, to its surprise,
The wondrous power of thine eyes.
Such is the love I bear to thee,
It makes e'en torture dear to me.
The Princess could not recover from her astonishment. At length she called to her attendants, who were as much surprised as Imis at the sight of the table and the baskets. The King, the Queen, and Philax hastened to the spot on the news of this extraordinary event. The Princess, in her relation of it, suppressed nothing except the letter of her lover. She considered she was not bound to reveal that to any one but Philax. The baskets were carefully examined, and were found to be filled with jewels of extraordinary beauty, and of so great a value as to double the astonishment of the spectators.
The Princess would not touch one of them, and having found an instant when nobody was listening, she drew near to Philax and gave him the emerald and the rose leaf. He read his rival's letter with much disquietude. Imis, to console him, tore the rose leaf to pieces before his face; but ah! how dearly did they pay for that act!
Some days elapsed without the Princess hearing anything of Pagan. She fancied that her contempt for him would extinguish his passion, and Philax flattered himself by indulging in a like belief. That Prince returned to the chase as usual. He halted alone by the side of a fountain, to refresh himself. He had about him the emerald which the Princess had given him, and recollecting with pleasure the little value she set on it, he drew it from his pocket to look at it. But scarcely had he held it a moment in his hand when it slipped through his fingers, and, as soon as it touched the ground, changed into a chariot. Two winged monsters issued from the fountain and harnessed themselves to it. Philax gazed on them without alarm, for he was incapable of fear, but he could not avoid feeling some emotion when he found himself transported into the chariot by an irresistible power, and at the same moment raised into the air, through which the winged monsters caused the chariot to fly with a prodigious rapidity. In the meanwhile night came, and the huntsmen, after searching throughout the wood in vain for Philax, repaired to the Palace, whither they imagined he might have returned alone; but he was not to be found there, nor had any one seen him since he had set out with them for the chase.
The King commanded them to go back and renew their search for the Prince. All the Court shared in his Majesty's anxiety. They returned to the wood, they ran in every direction around it, and did not retrace their steps to the Palace before daybreak, but without having obtained the least intelligence of the Prince. Imis had passed the night in despair at her lover's absence, of which she could not comprehend the cause. She had ascended a terrace of the Palace to watch for the return of the party that had gone in search of Philax, and flattered herself she should see him arrive in their company; but no words can express the excess of her affliction when no Philax appeared, and she was informed that it had been impossible to ascertain what had become of him. She fainted; they carried her into the Palace, and one of her women, in her haste to undress and put her to bed, took out of the hair of the Princess the plume of lilies of the valley which preserved her from the power of enchantments. The instant it was removed a dark cloud filled the apartment, and Imis disappeared. The King and Queen were distracted at this loss, and nothing could ever console them.
The Princess, on recovering from her swoon, found herself in a chamber of various-coloured coral, floored with mother-of-pearl, and surrounded by nymphs, who waited upon her with the most profound respect. They were very beautiful, and magnificently and tastefully attired. Imis first asked them where she was. "You are in a place where you are adored," said one of the nymphs to her. "Fear nothing, fair Princess, you will find in it everything you can desire." "Philax is here, then!" exclaimed the Princess, her eyes sparkling with joy. "I desire only the happiness of seeing him again." "You cherish too long the recollection of an ungrateful lover," said Pagan, at the same moment rendering himself visible to the Princess, "and as that Prince has deserted you, he is no more worthy your affection. Let resentment and respect for your own pride combine with the passion I entertain for you. Reign for ever in these regions, lovely Princess; you will find in them immense treasures, and all imaginable delights will attend your steps." Imis replied to Pagan's address with tears alone. He left her, fearing to embitter her grief. The nymphs remained with her, and used all their endeavours to console her. A magnificent repast was served up to her. She refused to eat; but at length, on the following morning, her desire to behold Philax once more made her resolve to live. She took some food, and the nymphs, to dissipate her sorrow, conducted her through various portions of the Palace. It was built entirely of shining shells, mixed with precious stones of different colours, which produced the finest effect in the world; all the furniture was of gold, and of such wonderful workmanship that you might easily see it could only have come from the hands of Fairies.
After they had shown Imis the Palace, the nymphs led her into the gardens, which were of a beauty not to be described. She found in them a very brilliant car, drawn by six stags, who were driven by a dwarf. She was requested to enter the car. Imis complied; the nymphs seated themselves at her feet. They were driven to the seaside, where a nymph informed the Princess that Pagan, who reigned in this island, had made it by the power of his art the most beautiful in the universe. The sound of instruments interrupted the narration of the nymph. The sea appeared to be entirely covered with little boats, built of flame-coloured coral, and filled with everything that could be required to compose a brilliant aquatic entertainment. In the midst of the small craft, there was a barque of much larger size, on which the initials of Imis were seen in every part, formed with pearls. It was drawn by two dolphins. It approached the shore. The Princess entered it, accompanied by her nymphs. As soon as she was on board, a superb collation appeared before her, and her ears were regaled at the same time by exquisite music which proceeded from the boats around her. Songs were sung, of which her praise alone was the theme. But Imis paid no attention to anything. She remounted her car, and returned to the Palace overwhelmed with sadness. In the evening Pagan again presented himself. He found her more insensible to his love than ever; but he was not discouraged, and trusted to the effect of his constancy. He had yet to learn that in love the most faithful are not always the most happy.
Every day he offered the Princess entertainments worthy of exciting the admiration of all the world, but which were lost upon her for whom they were invented. Imis thought of nothing but the absence of her lover.
That unhappy Prince had been transported in the meanwhile, by the winged monsters, into a forest which belonged to Pagan. It was called the Dismal Forest. As soon as Philax had arrived in it, the emerald chariot and the monsters disappeared. The Prince, surprised by this adventure, summoned up all his courage to his assistance, and it was the only aid on which he could reckon in that place. He first explored several of the roads through the forest. They were dreadful, and the sun never penetrated their gloom. No human being was to be found in them; not an animal even of any description; it seemed as though the beasts themselves had a horror of this dreary dwelling.
Philax lived upon the wild fruit he found in it. He passed his days in the deepest sorrow. The loss of the Princess distracted him, and sometimes, with his sword, which he had retained, he occupied himself with carving the name of Imis on the trunks of the trees, which were not adapted for so tender a practice; but when we are truly in love we frequently make things serviceable to our passion which appear to be least favourable for the purpose.
The Prince continued daily to travel through the forest, and he had been nearly a year on his journey, when one night he heard some plaintive voices, but could not distinguish any words. Alarming as these wailing sounds were at such an hour and in a place where the Prince had never yet met with mortal soul, the desire to be no longer alone, and to find at least some one as wretched as himself with whom he could weep over the misfortunes that had befallen them, made him wait with impatience for morning, when he might seek out the persons whose voices he had heard. He walked towards that part of the forest whence he fancied the sounds had proceeded, but hunted all day in vain; at length, however, towards evening, he discovered, in a spot which was clear of trees, the ruins of a castle which appeared to have been of great size and magnificence. He entered a court-yard, the walls of which were of green marble, and seemed still tolerably perfect. He found in it nothing but trees of prodigious height, standing irregularly in various parts of the enclosure. He advanced towards a spot where he perceived something elevated upon a pedestal of black marble. It proved to be a confused pile of armour and weapons, heaped one upon the other: helmets, shields, and swords of an ancient form, which composed a sort of ill-arranged trophy. He looked for some inscription which might inform him to whom these arms had formerly appertained. He found one engraved on the pedestal. Time had nearly effaced the characters, and it was with much difficulty that he deciphered these words:--
TO THE IMMORTAL RECOLLECTION OF THE GLORY OF THE FAIRY CEORA.
IT WAS HERE
THAT ON THE SAME DAY
SHE TRIUMPHED OVER CUPID
AND PUNISHED HER FAITHLESS LOVERS.
This inscription did not afford Philax all the information he desired; he therefore would have continued his search through the forest if night had not overtaken him. He seated himself at the foot of a cypress, and scarcely had been there a moment, before he heard the same voices which had attracted his attention the previous evening. He was not so much surprised at this as at perceiving that it was the trees themselves which uttered these complaints, just as if they had been human beings. The Prince arose, drew his sword, and struck with it the cypress which was nearest to him. He was about to repeat the blow, when the tree exclaimed, "Hold! hold! Assault not an unhappy Prince who is no longer in a state to defend himself!" Philax stayed his hand, and becoming accustomed to this supernatural circumstance, inquired of the cypress by what miracle it was thus a man and a tree at the same time. "I am willing to inform you," replied the cypress; "and as, during two thousand years, this is the first opportunity Fate has afforded me of relating my misfortunes, I will not lose it. All the trees you behold in this court-yard were princes, renowned in their time for the rank they held in the world, and for their valour. The Fairy Ceora reigned in this country. She was beautiful, but her science rendered her more famous than her beauty. She therefore made use of other charms to subject us to her sway. She had become enamoured of the young Oriza, a prince, whose admirable qualities rendered him worthy of a better fate. I should premise to you," added the cypress, "it is the oak which you see beside me." Philax looked at the oak, and heard it breathe a heavy sigh, drawn from it, no doubt, by the recollection of its misfortune. "To attract this prince to her Court," continued the cypress, "the Fairy caused a tournament to be proclaimed. We all hastened to seize this opportunity of acquiring glory. Oriza was one of the princes who disputed the prize. It consisted of fairy armour which would render the wearer invulnerable. Unfortunately, I was the conqueror. Ceora, irritated that Fate had not favoured her inclinations, resolved to avenge herself upon us. She enchanted the looking-glasses, with which a gallery of her castle was entirely lined. Those who saw her reflected but once in these fatal mirrors, could not resist feeling for her the most violent passion. It was in this gallery she received us the day after the tournament. We all saw her in these mirrors, and she appeared to us so beautiful, that those amongst us who had hitherto been indifferent to love, ceased to be so from that instant; and those who were in love with others became as suddenly faithless. We no longer thought of leaving the Fairy's palace: our only anxiety was to please her. In vain did state affairs demand our presence in our own dominions; nothing seemed of consequence to us save the hope of being beloved by Ceora. Oriza was the only one she favoured, and the passion of the other princes but gave the Fairy opportunities of sacrificing them to this lover who was so dear to her, and caused the fame of her beauty to be spread throughout the world. Love appeared for some time to have softened the cruel nature of Ceora; but at the end of four or five years she displayed her former ferocity. She revenged herself on the kings, her neighbours, for the smallest slight by the most horrible murders, and abusing the power which her enchantments gave her over us, she made us the ministers of her cruelties. Oriza strove in vain to prevent her injustice. She loved him; but she would not obey him. Having returned one day from fighting and subduing a giant whom I had challenged by her orders, I caused the arms of the vanquished to be brought into her presence. She was alone in the Gallery of Looking-glasses. I laid the giant's spoils at her feet, and pleaded my passion to her with inconceivable ardour, augmented, no doubt, by the power of the enchantment by which I was surrounded. But far from evincing the least gratitude for the success of my combat, or for the love I felt for her, Ceora treated me with the utmost contempt; and, retiring into a boudoir, left me alone in the gallery, in an indescribable state of despair and rage. I remained there some time, not knowing what resolution to take; for the enchantments of the Fairy did not permit us to fight with Oriza. Careful of the life of her lover, the cruel Ceora excited our jealousy, but took from us the natural desire to revenge ourselves on a fortunate rival. At length, after having paced the gallery for some time, I remembered that it was in this place I had first fallen in love with the Fairy, and exclaimed, 'It is here that I first felt that fatal passion which now fills me with despair; and you, wretched mirrors, who have so often represented the unjust Ceora to me, with a beauty which has enslaved my heart and reason, I will punish you for the crime of offering her to my view with too great attraction.' At these words, snatching up the giant's club, which I had brought to present to the Fairy, I dashed the mirrors to pieces. No sooner were they broken than I felt even greater hatred for Ceora than I had formerly felt love for her. The princes, my rivals, felt at the same moment their charms broken, and Oriza himself was ashamed of the love which the Fairy had for him. Ceora in vain attempted to retain her lover by her tears; he was insensible to her grief, and in spite of her cries, we set out all together, determined to fly from the terrible place, but in passing through the court-yard, the sky appeared to be on fire; a frightful clap of thunder was heard, and we found it was impossible for us to move. The Fairy appeared in the air, riding on a great serpent, and addressing us in a tone of voice which betrayed her rage,--'Inconstant princes,' said she, 'I am about to punish you, by a torture which will never end, for the crime you have committed in breaking my chains, which were too great an honour for you to bear; and as for you, ungrateful Oriza, I triumph after all in the love you have felt for me. Content with this victory, I shall visit you with the same misfortune as your rivals; and I command,' added she, 'in memory of this adventure, that when the use of mirrors shall be known to all the world, the breaking of these fatal glasses shall always be a certain sign of the infidelity of a lover.' The Fairy disappeared in the air after having pronounced these words. We were changed into trees; but the cruel Ceora, no doubt with the idea of increasing our suffering, left us our reason. Time has destroyed the superb castle, which was the victim of our misfortune; and you are the only visitor we have seen during the two thousand years that we have been in this frightful forest."
Philax was about to reply to this speech of the cypress tree, when he was suddenly transported into a beautiful garden; he there found a lovely nymph, who approached him with a gracious air, saying, "If you wish it, Philax, I will allow you in three days to see the Princess Imis."
The Prince, transported with joy at so unexpected a proposition, threw himself at her feet to express his gratitude. At that same moment Pagan was in the air, concealed in a cloud with the Princess Imis: he had told her a thousand times that Philax was unfaithful, but she had always refused, on the word of a jealous lover, to believe it. He now conducted her to this spot, he said, to convince her of the fickleness of the Prince she so unjustly preferred to him. The Princess saw Philax throw himself, with an air of extreme delight, at the feet of the nymph; and was in despair that she could no longer deceive herself on a point which she feared to believe more than anything in the world. Pagan had placed her at a distance from the earth, which prevented her hearing what Philax and the nymph said; and it was by his orders that the latter had presented herself to him.
Pagan led Imis back to his island, where after having convinced her of the infidelity of Philax, he found he had only redoubled the grief of that beautiful Princess without rendering her at all more favourable to himself.
In despair at finding this pretended infidelity, from which he had expected so much success, was useless to him, he resolved to be revenged on the constancy of the lovers: he was not cruel, like the Fairy Ceora, his ancestress, so he bethought him of a different punishment to that with which she had visited her unfortunate lovers. He did not wish to destroy either the Princess, whom he had so tenderly loved, nor even Philax, whom he had already made suffer so much; so, confining his revenge to the destruction of a passion which had so opposed his own, he erected in his island a Crystal Palace, and took care to put into it everything that would render life agreeable but the means of leaving it; he shut up in it nymphs and dwarfs to wait on Imis and her lover; and, when everything was prepared for their reception, he transported them both there. They at first thought themselves on the summit of happiness, and blessed Pagan a thousand times for the mildness of his anger. As for Pagan, although at first he could not bear to see them together, he expected that this spectacle would one day be less painful to him. But in the meanwhile, he departed from the Crystal Palace, after having, with a stroke of his wand, engraved on it this inscription:--
Absence, danger, pleasure, pain,
Were all employ'd, and all in vain,
Imis' and Philax' hearts to sever.
Pagan, whose power they dared defy,
Condemned them, for their constancy,
To dwell together here for ever!
They say that at the end of some years, Pagan was as much avenged as he desired to be; and that the beautiful Imis and Philax fulfilled the prediction of the Fairy of the Mountain, by wishing as fervently to recover the aigrette of lilies in order to destroy the agreeable enchantment, as they had formerly desired to preserve it as a safeguard against the evils which had been foretold would befal them.
Until that moment a fond pair, so blest,
Had cherished in their hearts Love's constant fire:
But Pagan taught them by that fatal test,
That e'en of bliss the human heart could tire.