The Blossom and the Fruit
A TALE OF LOVE AND MAGIC
A True Story of a Black Magician
by Mabel Collins
"The Prettiest Woman in Warsaw."
"The Idyll of The White Lotus,"
"Through The Gates of Gold,"
[Lucifer, Vol I. London, Sept 15th 1887, No 1.]
© 2003 Online Teosofiska Kompaniet
IN a masked ball there is an element of adventure that appeals to the daring of both sexes, to the bright and witty spirits. Hilary Estanol was just such an one as the hero of a bright revel should be. A beautiful boy, with a lovely face, and eyes that had in them a deep sadness. In repose his face was almost womanish in its softness; but a chill brilliance was in his smile, a certain slight cynicism coloured all his speech. Yet Hilary had no reason to be a cynic, and he was not one who adopted anything from fashion or affectation. The spring of this uncalled-for coldness and indifference lay in himself.
Tonight he was the centre of attraction in Madame Estanol’s drawingrooms. This bal masqué was to celebrate his coming of age, and Hilary had never looked so womanish as when he stood among his friends’ receiving their congratulations and admiring their gifts. He wore the dress of a troubadour, and it was one which became him well, not only in its picturesqueness as a costume, but in the requirements of the character. He had the faculty of the improvisatore, his voice was rich and soft, his musical and poetic gifts swift and versatile. Hilary was adored by his friends, but disliked, indeed almost hated, by his one near relation, his mother. She was standing near him now, talking to a group who had gathered round her. She was one of the cleverest women of the day, and, still beautiful and full of a charming pride, held a court of her own. Her dislike for Hilary was founded on her estimate of his character. To one of her intimate friends she had said, not long before this night, ”Hilary will disgrace his name and family before there is one grey thread in his dark hair. He has the qualities that bring despair and ensure remorse. God will surely forgive me that I say this of my son; but I see it before me, an abyss into which he will drag me with him; and I wait for it every day.”
A guest, just arrived, approached Madame Estanol with a smile, and after greeting her affectionately, said, in a whisper, ”I have brought a friend with me. Welcome her in her character as a fortune-teller. She is very witty, and will amuse us presently, if you like.”
She moved aside a little, and Madame Estanol saw standing behind her a stooping figure, an old haggard crone, with palsied head, and hand that trembled as it grasped her stick.
”Ah, Countess! It is impossible to recognise your friend under this disguise”, said Madame Estanol. ”Will you not tell me who she is?”
”I am pledged to say nothing but that she is a fortune-teller”, said the Countess Bairoun. ”Her name she herself will reveal only to one person; and that person must be born under the star that favoured her own birth.”
The fortune-teller turned her bent head towards Madame Estanol, and fixed a pair of brilliant and fascinating eyes on hers. Immediately Madame Estanol became aware of a strong charm that drew her towards this mysterious person. She advanced and held out her hand to assist the old woman in moving across the room.
”Come with me”, she said, ”I should like to introduce you to my son. He is the hero of this scene tonight, for the ball is held in honour of his coming of age.”
They went together through the maskers that were now beginning to throng the large drawing-rooms, and everyone turned to look at the strange figure of the tottering old crone. Hilary Estanol was leaning against the high carved oak mantel frame of the inner drawing-room, surrounded by a laughing group of his intimate friends. He held his mask in his hand, and as he stood there smiling, his dark curls falling on his forehead, his mother thought, as she approached him, ”My boy grows handsomer every hour of his gay young life.” When Hilary saw his mother’s strange companion he advanced a step, as if to welcome her, But Madame Estanol checked him with a smile. ”I cannot introduce our visitor to you”, she said, ”for I do not know her name. She will tell it to but one person, who must have been born under the same star as herself. Meantime, we are to greet her in her character as the fortune-teller.”
This announcement was welcomed by a murmur of amusement and interest.
”Then will our kind visitor perhaps exercise her craft for us?” asked Hilary, gazing with curiosity at the trembling head and grey locks before him. The old woman turned her head sideways, and gave him a look from those strange brilliant eyes. He, too, like his mother, felt the charm from them. But he felt more. Something suddenly wakened within him; a rush of inexplicable emotions roused him into amazement; he put his hands to his forehead; he was bewildered, almost faint.
There was a small drawing-room which opened out of the room they were in. It was so tiny that it held but a table covered with flowers, a low couch and an easy-chair. The laughing group that surrounded Hilary went eagerly to convert this room into the sanctum of the prophetess. They lowered and softened the shaded light; drew close the blinds and shut the doors, locking all but one. Here was placed a guardian who was to admit grudgingly and one by one those who were fortunate enough to speak alone with the sybil, for she would only see certain of the guests whom she selected herself from the throng, describing their appearance and dress to the guardian of her improvised temple. These were all ladies of great position. They entered laughing and half defiant. They came out, some pale, some red, some trembling, some in tears. ”Who can she be?” they whispered in terrified tones to one another, and in that terror showed how she had penetrated their hearts and touched on their secret thoughts.
At last the guardian of the door said that Hilary himself was to enter.
When Hilary went in, the young man, as he closed the door on the fortune teller and her new guest, turned with a laugh to the group behind him.
”Already she has startled him”, he said, ”I heard him utter almost a cry as he entered:”
”Could you see in?” asked one, ”perhaps she has taken off her disguise for her host!”
”No, I saw nothing”, he answered. ”Can none of you who have been in guess whi she is?”
”No”, answered a girl who had come out from the ordeal with white and trembling lips. ”It is impossible to guess. She knows everything.”
It was as they had supposed. She had taken off her disguise for the host. The staff, the large cloak, the wig and cap lay on the ground. With the swift use of a cosmetiqued kerchief she had removed from her fair skin the dark complexion of the ancient sybil. When Hilary entered she had completed this rapid toilette and sat leaning back in a low chair. She was dressed in a rich evening costume; she held a mask in her hand ready for use. But now her face was uncovered; her strange and brilliant eyes were fixed on Hilary; her beautiful mouth wore a half smile of amusement at his surprise. It was more than surprise that he experienced. Again that rush of inexplicable emotion overpowered him. He felt like one intoxicated. He regarded her very earnestly for a few moments.
”Surely”, he said, ”we have met before!”
”We were born under the same star”, she answered in a voice that thrilled him. Until now he had not heard her speak. The sense of some strong link or association that united them, was made doubly strong by the sound of that voice, rich, strong and softe. Suddenly he recognized the meaning of his emotion. He no longer struggled against it, he no longer was bewildered by it.
He approached her and sat down upon the couch at her side. He regarded her with wonder and adoration, but no longer with awe or surprise. For he understood that the event which he had imagined would never come was already here – he was in love.
”You said you would disclose your name to the one who was born under the same star as yourself.”
”Do you not know me?”, she said with a slight look of surprise. She fancied everyone knew her at least by sight.
”I do not”, he answered, ”though indeed I am perplexed to think I can ever have lived without knowing you.”
Flattery produced no effect upon her, she lived in an atmosphere of it.
”I am the Princess Fleta”, she answered. Hilary started and coloured a little at the words, and could ill control his emotion. The Princess Fleta held a position in the society of the country, which can only belong to one who stands next to a throne that rules an important nation. She was a personage among crowned heads, one to whom an emperor might, without stooping, offer his love; and Hilary, the child of an officer of the Austrian army, and of a poor daughter of a decayed aristocratic family, Hilary had in the swift stirring of love at first sight, told his own heart that he loved her! It could never be unsaid, and he knew it. He had whispered the words within himself, the whisper would find a hundred echoes. He must always love her.
The Princess turned her wonderful eyes on him and smiled.
”I have done my work for tonight”, she said. ”I have amused some of the people, now I should like to dance.”
Hilary was sufficient of a courtier not to be deaf to this command, though his whole soul was in his eyes and all his thoughts fixed on her beauty. He rose and offered her his arm, she put on her mask and they left the room. When Hilary appeared among the crowd that hung round the door of the fortune teller’s sauctum, accompanied by a slender, graceful woman, whose face was hidden save for the great dark eyes, there was an irrepressible murmur of excitement and wonder. ”Who can she be?”, was repeated again a hundred times. But no one guessed. None dreamed this could be the Princess Fleta herself; for there were but few houses she would visit at, and no one imagined that there could be any inducement to bring her to Madame Estanol’s. The mystery of her presence she explained to Hilary while they danced together.
”I am a student of magic”, she said, ”and I have already learned some useful secrets. I can read the hearts of the courtiers who surround me, and I know where to look for true friends. Last night I dreamed of the friend I should find here. Do you care for these mystic occupations?”
”I know nothing of them”, said Hilary.
”Let me teach you then”, said the Princess, with at light laugh. ”You will be a good pupil, that I know. Perhaps I may make a disciple of you! And there are not many with whom that is possible.”
”And why?”, asked Hilary. ”Surely it is a fascinating study to those who can believe in the secrets.”
”Scepticism is not the great difficulty”, answered the Princess, ”but fear. Terror turns the drowd back från the threshold. Only a few dare cross it.”
”And you are one of the few”, said Hilary, gazing on her with eyes of burning admiration.
”I have never felt fear”, she answered.
”And would it be impossible to make you feel it, I wonder”, said Hilary.
”Do you desire to try?”, she answered, with a smile at his daring speech. It did not sound so full of impertinence as it looks, for Hilary’s eyes and face were all alight with love and admiration, and his voice trembled with passion.
”You can make the attempt if you choose”, she said, glancing at him with those strange eyes of hers. ”Terrify me if you can.”
”Not herre, in my own house, it would not be hospitable.”
”Come and see me, then, some day when you think it will amuse you. Try and frighten me. I will show you my laboratory, where I produce essences and incenses to please the gnomes and ghouls.”
Hilary accepted this invitation with a flush of pleasure.
”Take me to the Countess”, she said at last. ”I am going home. But I want her first to introduce me to your mother.”
The Countess was delighted that the Princess had made up her mind to this. She hardly thought Madame Estanol would be pleased to discover that the great lady had been masquerading in her drawing-room, and had not cared to throw off her disguise even for her hostess. And the Countess valued the friendship of Madame Estanol; so she was glad the wilful Princess had decided to treat her with politeness.
Madame Estanol could scarcely conceal her surprise at learning what the dignity was shich had been hidden under the disguise of the old fortune-teller. The Princess did not remove her mask, and, with a laugh, she warned Madame Estanol that some of her guests would nnot be pleased to discover who the sybil was who had read their hearts so shrewdly.
When she had gone, Hilary’s heart and spirits had gone with her. It seemed as if he hardly cared to speak; his laughter had died away altogether. Hit thoughts, his very self, followed the fascinating personality that had bewitched him.
Madame Estanol saw his abstraction, his flushed eager look, and the new softness of his eyes. But she said no word. She feared the Princess, who was well known to be full of caprice and wilfulness. She feared lest Hilary should be mad enough to yield to the charm of the girl’s beauty and confident manner; the charm of power, peculiar, or rather, possible only to one in a royal place. But she would say no word; knowing Hilary well, she knew that any attempt to influence him against it would only intensify his new passion.
(To be continued.)
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