|Newspaper Title||Illustrated Sydney News (NSW : 1853 - 1872)|
|Trove Title||The Witch of Atlas|
For she was beautiful ; her beauty made
The bright world dim, aiid everything beside Seemed like the fleeting image of a shade.
No thought of living spirit could, abide
(Which to her looks had ever been betrayed)
On any object in the world so wide, On any hope within the circling skies,
But on her form and in her inmost eyes.
ADIMLY-LIGHTED room, a subtle per-
fume stealing: around me, and opposite, from amid an Oriental framë of glancing silks and bright colours, two dark, almond-shaped eyes magnetising me above the veiling folds of filmy lace. I fidget on my chair with a vague sense of nervousness. This was not at all what I had reckoned upon when curiosity, pricked by a quaintly-worded advertisement, impelled me to wander up Hunter-street in search of Madame Fan nitza, the ' Witch of Atlas,' who professes to utter Eastern prophecies. I didn't care much about prophecies, either Eastern or Western. I knew, or fancied I knew, quite enough of what Fate held in store for me, and that no stranger was likely to disturb my placid content with my own plans. But the 4 Witch of Atlas ' attracted me. In old days, when I was young and wilful, Shelley's poems had been christened my .Bible; and now that I am ancient and staid, their glamour still lingers upon me. So with Shelley's verse ringing through my brain I had entered the untidy decorator's shop and climbed the dark, steep stairs leading to the Witch's lair. And here she was, neither a witch in our usual reading of the term, nor the mysti- cal maiden of Shelley's poem, but an Eastern mystery come from the shores of the Bos
phorus to unveil, not itself, but my secrets ; for that is what the Witch is doing with that silent serpent-like gaze which ensnares my will and penetrates the mask which I hold up to the every-day world.. The plausible fib, the conventional autobiog- raphy, the i naginary interest with which I have so cleverly cloaked my identity, all fall away as mountain mists fade at daybreak. I cannot even rebel, my individuality is gone, my power of resentment disappeared, I am at the Witch's mercy, and willing to remain thus, dreamily fascinated by the searching eyes; I am floating away into dreamland, only conscious that, whereas I came to investigate, I am being investigated. At last the veiled prophetess breaks the silence, her voice, with its slight foreign accent, sounding curiously far off to my dreamy ears :
' Give me your hand.'
I obey in silence, but the voice and the action have roused me, and I find myself speculating curiously regarding the Witch ; for her accents are those of a refined and cultured woman, not of the average pro- fessional clairvoyante and fortune-teller. Who is she, whence is she, what is she, why is she here ? Has she really faith in her-
'Never mind me,' says the voice once more, answering my unspoken thought. ' Our business is with you; you have an extraordinary" hand ; you have had an extraordinary life ; you are not what you appear to be.'
Well, it was just what I had anticipated, the sort of thing her eyes had already made
THE WITCH OP ATLAS.
me feel ; yet I ventured a protest. I wasn't going to be set down in this summary fashion by a stranger after I had caused all my friends to put their faith in my angelic virtues.
'I think you are mistaken,' I observe meekly ; ' I am but a commonplace person.'
The eyes give me a steady glance before which my lids fall, I am convinced that the lips hidden by that filmy veil are curling sarcastically.
' I dare not guess, but in tbis life Of error, ignorance and strife,
Where nothing is and all things seem,
And we the shadows of a dream.'
Murmers the quiet voice. Evidently the Witch knows her Shelley by heart.
* Your present life is but the shadow of your past dream,' she adds, ' shall I read your hand ? '
I bow meekly, tremblingly, yet sceptically, and lo! my character, my ambitions, my lot
in-life, ay,^some of the hidden life, of my., heart, all these are revealed by the voice of the prophetess. At length she comes to a full stop.
' There is a mystery in your hand, ' she says in an undertone, ' a terrible mystery, belonging really to another life, but which has shadowed yours. I cannot discover it at once ; the lines are complicated, the secresy has been great, but by studying I can tell you exactly what it is ; shall I try.'
I decline hurriedly. To be sure I am not aware that there is any such terrible mystery to reveal, but all the same I have had quite enough of this sort of thing, and I feel that the chapter of my past has been sufficiently
studied. I want that other chapter of th© future ; what about the prophecies ?
' I suppose you use cards ? ' I ask rather contemptuously.
' I believe in the cards ; they never lie though my interpretation may err. But I can gather some of your future from your hand, and-, well I am interested in you, and I will use some of our Turkish symbols that I reserve for favoured clients with peculiar histories-I cannot waste sacred symbols on the commonplace. But I want to prove to you that I am no impostor, but one gifted with a mission.'
' A mission ! A fortune-telling mission ! * ' Certainly. I have what you call second sight, inherited from my Circassian mother. I use external helps, but the gift is there, and surely it is granted me for some purpose. Is it a small thing if I enable you to know your fate beforehand, and regulate your life accordingly.'
' But if I cross my fate ? '
' You cannot. It is written.' ' But my will.'
' Kismet ! Will you know your future ? ' It is pleasant enough ; my woes lie behind, success and peace are in front. Had I true faith in cards and crescents my peace of mind
would indeed be assured.
And, though I have scant faith in cards and crescents, I am unconsciously reassured by those earnest dark eyes, that calm voice talking of Kismet with conviction. I con- nect her mysteriously with my future. This woman who divines the past-what then is her past ? She smiles as, the séance over, I ply her with questions ; smiles, sighs, and
then takes met into her confidence, and I learn a story so strange and pathetic that I scarce realise that I am listening to it ia prosaic every-day Sydney. The child of a favoured Circassian beauty, born surrep- titiously in the harem, smuggled away in earliest infancy to escape unreasoning female jealousy, Such is the Witch of Atlas, who little thought then of becoming a reader of futurity in New South Wales. With natural beauty and gifts, with the interest attached to her royal blood and romantic birth, with a Western education bestowed on her
by her guardian ; small wonder if she attracted the admiring glances of one of the richest bankers in Paris, who speedily launched her into society as his wile. Covered with diamonds, fashionable alike by her position and antecedents, the Witch lived in a whirl of dissipation till the day when her husband's wealth proved to be but a speculative bubble*, and she was left stranded and scouted by society. Kismet brought her across the seas to try her fortune, with the re- sult that she is now warning others of the ups and downs of fortune.