Elsie's "Palmistry Evening"
by Annie Fellows
As Helen Jaynes stood before the mirror in her room, putting the last
touches to her toilet, there was a rap at the door.
"I'm ready, Jane," she called, thinking it was the maid who had come
to tell her the carriage was ready. But instead, her fifteen-year-old
sister Sara peeped into the room. "Oh, sister Helen!" she exclaimed,
in a disappointed tone. "Are you going out? Olive and I wanted to ask
you something very particularly."
"Come in, dear," answered Helen, nodding pleasantly to the
rosy-cheeked girl who peered over Sara's shoulder. "What do you want?
I am at your service."
"What is it you want, Sara?" asked Helen again, as the girls seated
themselves by the cozy, tiled fireplace, and looked round admiringly.
Sara hesitated. "I had planned to break it to you gently," she began,
"but as you are going out there is no time to lead up to the subject
gradually. I hope you'll not be shocked, but there is a clairvoyant at
the Metropole this week. Some of the girls have been there, and they
say it is simply wonderful how she can tell fortunes. She charges only
fifty cents. Olive and I are wild to go, and we thought maybe you
might take us Saturday afternoon."
Helen buttoned her gloves as if considering. "Do you think it would
make you any happier, little sister, to know what the future holds for
"Oh, yes!" answered Sara, decidedly. "The clairvoyant told Addie
Roberts things in her past life that positively nobody but Addie knew
had happened. Then she told her that a large fortune is coming to her
soon, and she has a long journey ahead of her. She is to fall in love
with a young man whom her parents will oppose her marrying, but 'love
will find out a way,' and all will end happily."
"Does Addie believe all that the clairvoyant told her?" asked Helen.
"I don't know," answered Sara, but Olive put in eagerly, "I am sure
she does, for she talks so much about it, and says if the woman could
tell her past so accurately, she cannot help thinking that there must
be some truth in her predictions for the future."
"Sara," said Helen, gravely, "suppose that woman were to tell you that
sometime you will quarrel with your family, and be driven from home,
and finally die in a poorhouse. Wouldn't it make you miserable every
time you thought of it?"
"No, indeed, sister," answered the girl, indignantly. "I hope I am not
quite so weak-minded as to believe all that. I'd simply think that she
had made a mistake. Imagine me quarrelling with my family!"
"But clairvoyants often tell people things that seem just as
improbable. What is the use of wasting half a dollar to hear
predictions that you might not be able to believe, or if you could
believe them, would make you utterly miserable?"
"Oh, it is just for the fun of it, Helen," urged Sara. "Please take
us. All the girls are going, and we have never had our fortunes told
in our lives."
Before there was time for a reply, Jane came to the door. "The
carriage is waiting, Miss Helen," she said. For a moment Helen stood
irresolutely beside her dressing-table, stroking her muff in an
absent-minded sort of way. Then she said: "I shall have to think about
it awhile before I can promise. I shall not be out long. If you girls
have nothing planned for the afternoon, suppose you wait for me here.
Get out my old college chafing-dish and make yourselves some
chocolate, string up my banjo, and I'll give you a package of old
letters to read, telling of some of our pranks at school."
"Oh, that will be lovely, Miss Helen," cried Olive; "especially the
letters;" and Sara ran to give her sister an impulsive hug.
Unlocking her desk, Helen selected a bundle of letters from one of the
pigeonholes. It was tied with her class colours and marked "From
Sophia Gordon." "She was my best friend at school," explained Helen,
"and my roommate for three years; but being in the class just below
me, she had to go through her senior year without me. These letters
were written during that time. I have a reason for asking you to read
them. Perhaps you will be able to discover it before I come back."
With a smile and nod to Olive, and a light kiss on Sara's cheek, she
left them to amuse themselves during her absence in any way they
"You read the letters aloud while I make the chocolate," said Sara, as
the door closed behind her sister. "We can do the other things
"There is a photograph in this one, of a girl about your size, Sara,"
announced Olive, as she opened the first letter. "What's this written
under it? 'Timoroso.' What a queer name! But see what a sweet face she
has. I wonder who it can be?"
"The letter will probably tell," answered Sara, striking a match to
light the alcohol-lamp. "Go on, I am ready to listen."
"My dearest Helen," read Olive. "Here I am back at school in our
sunshiny old south room in Baxter Hall, with the same jolly set of
girls popping their heads out of their doors, all along the corridor,
to joke with each other; the same old teachers and furniture and surroundings; the same dear old everything, with one exception—my old
"I know you are dying to hear about my new roommate. She is a freshman
by the name of Susannah Talbot, but we have never called her that
since the first day. You will find her photograph enclosed, and can
see for yourself what a shy little rabbit she is.
"Elsie Gayland came into our room while I was showing Susannah where
to put her things as she unpacked. You know how regardlessly outspoken
Elsie is, and how thoroughly saturated with her music. She is worse
than ever this year, and talks almost entirely in musical terms.
"'How are you two going to chord?' she said, abruptly, to Susannah.
'If Sophia were a sheet of music, she would be marked on every score,
Fortissimo, because she is so forcible and aggressive. But you are
just the opposite; it seems to me that Timoroso would just suit you.
You do not object to a nickname, I hope? Everybody has to put up with
"Susannah blushed and managed to stammer out that she didn't mind, and
ever since then she has been 'Timoroso' to us all. You know Elsie
Gayland. She is the same old Elsie. What the Pied Piper was to
Hamelin town, she is to this school. We all still flock after her in
spite of ourselves, and no matter what she chooses to pipe for us, we
dance after her.
"She has a new fad now—palmistry. Yesterday she showed me a book on
the subject, that she studied all vacation. It is the weirdest looking
thing, bound in black, with white serpents crawling all over the
cover. It made me creep to look at it. She says that she is going to
give a 'Palmistry Evening' soon, whatever that may be, and tell our
fortunes. Timoroso has just come in and says that Elsie is waiting for
me, so with 'these few broken remarks,' and a heart full of love, I
must leave you for the present. Devotedly,
As Olive laid down the letter and took up another, Sara exclaimed, "I
see now why sister wanted us to read them. It is something about
"The next letter is dated a week later," said Olive, beginning to read
"It was so lovely of you, Helen, dearest, to write me that good long
letter in answer to the scrap I sent. I have put off answering it
until I could tell you about our palmistry evening which Elsie gave us
last night. She almost got into trouble by passing round little slips
of paper in class, on which was written:
8# XXIV. Lc.
"Miss Hill caught sight of one as it was being passed to Timoroso, and
called her up to the desk. Seeing that Tim was almost ready to faint
from embarrassment, Elsie spoke up quickly: 'It's mine, Miss Hill. It
is just a reference. I had several slipped in here, between the leaves
of my algebra.'
"Of course it was a reference. You can easily tell what it referred to
when interpreted in the old way. Eight o'clock sharp. Room 24.
"'A reference to what, Miss Gayland?' asked Miss Hill, in her most
"'To palmistry,' answered Elsie, calmly. 'A subject which I have been
investigating for some time.'
"With that Miss Hill sent Tim back to her seat, and read us a lecture
on the folly of such things, and the harm of allowing them to absorb
our valuable time. Elsie was cross at some of the things she said, for
she firmly believes in chiromancy. 'There can't be anything wrong in
it,' she declared to us afterward, 'for papa would not have given me
this big, expensive book about it, with all these fine plates. See!
Here is an impression of Gladstone's hand, and lots of celebrated
people. Miss Hill has no right to class all believers in palmistry
with mountebanks and gypsies, and she certainly betrays her ignorance
of a noble science when she mixes it up with clairvoyance and common
"Still, Miss Hill's remarks made some change in Elsie's plans, for
when we gathered in her room at the appointed time, it looked just as
usual, although she had intended to have it darkened and hung with
"After we had all taken our seats, Elsie retired behind a heavy screen
in the corner. She had previously cut two slits in it, through which
we were to thrust our hands. She made us take off our rings, so that
she could not recognise us by them, and commanded absolute silence.
The light was on her side of the screen, and the semi-darkness in
which we sat, added to the breathless silence, made us unnaturally
solemn. The girls motioned me to put my hands through the screen
first; and I wish you could have seen the pantomime they went through
as she enumerated my familiar traits of character. They nodded their
heads in emphatic agreement, each one growing more eager every moment
for her turn, as all recognised the truth of Elsie's reading. Some of
us found that we had very odd propensities, but it was Timoroso who
made the sensation of the evening. When her turn came I could see that
she had become almost frightened at Elsie's remarkable power of
discernment, and was much wrought upon by the impressive silence of
the dimly lighted room.
"After a moment of careful examination Elsie began: 'This is a psychic
hand which shows a delicate constitution, great sensitiveness, and
abnormal nervousness. The life line is very short, the head line good,
but running too far down into the mount of Luna. That may indicate
only unusual imaginative power, or if other lines confirm it, it may
mean a tendency to insanity.' Then she gave a startled exclamation and
paused a moment. 'Oh, girls!' she cried. 'How interesting! I have
never found this mark in a hand before, but it is in one of the
"'What?' we cried in chorus, breaking the long-enforced silence.
"'It is the suicide line!'
"Poor little Timoroso jerked her hands away, and turned toward us with
a frightened face gleaming through the dusk as white as her collar.
Her distress was pitiful.
"You see, Elsie had been telling so many truths about us, that poor
little Tim believed implicitly in her fortune-telling ability. She
felt that her doom was sealed; that the cruel finger of a relentless
fate had written it so plainly in her tell-tale palm, that all who saw
it might read. She hid her face on my shoulder and sobbed so violently
that it put an end to the seance.
"Elsie had to come out from behind the screen to help soothe her.
'Why, Tim, dear, you mustn't take it so to heart!' she insisted. 'Let
me look at your hands again. There may be plenty of lines to
counteract that one; besides, I am only a beginner, and liable to make
a wrong interpretation.'
"By sheer force of her strong, cheery personality, she calmed Tim
after awhile, and had her laughing like the gayest of us. Nobody but
Elsie could have done it.
"When Miss Hill made an excuse to come in a little after nine o'clock,
we were eating apples and telling riddles as demurely as Quaker
"'SHE HID HER FACE ON MY SHOULDER'"
When Olive had finished reading this letter aloud, she had to read
several more before she came to another mentioning the subject in
which she and Sara were most interested; and after that there were
only occasional paragraphs scattered here and there among pages of
personal news and school happenings.
"I am afraid that Timoroso is going to be ill," wrote Sophia, in one
of those gossipy epistles. "She is as white and listless as a tired
little ghost. She has slept scarcely any since our palmistry evening,
but I did not discover the fact until last night. I woke suddenly to
find her standing by the window in the moonlight, with a blanket
thrown round her. She was catching her breath in long, choking sobs,
and wringing her hands in the greatest distress. The idea that she
must sometime take her own life haunts her night and day. I found that
she had been brooding over it, taking a morbid interest in all the
sensational reports of suicides that she can find in the papers, and
that she has been rereading Cleopatra's experiments with poisons."
"Timoroso's case is growing alarming. I have told Elsie, and she feels
she is directly responsible for her condition, and bemoans her
thoughtlessness in ever telling Tim what she saw in her hand. She is
doing all she can now to cheer Tim up and ridicule her out of her
morbidness. She is always running in with some funny speech to make us
laugh. Of course, all the other girls follow her example, so that
poor little Tim is the most popular girl in school now; but I catch
her looking at her hand a dozen times a day, with all the horror in
her face that Lady Macbeth's had, over the spots that would not out."
"The crisis came last night. I was awakened by hearing a window
stealthily opened, and the moonlight was bright enough to show me
Timoroso stepping up on the sill.
"'Tim!' I cried, 'what on earth are you doing?' She turned and looked
at me wildly for an instant, and then, running across the room, flung
herself down on the bed beside me.
"'Oh, I am so glad I did not do it!' she cried, with a little moan. 'I
felt that I must jump out of the window. I am glad you called me.
Still,'—she looked round wildly again,—'if I am doomed to such an
awful fate, it will have to come sometime, and it might be better to
have it over with soon, than to live in this constant dread.'
"When I told Elsie about it, this morning, she cried, and that is
something I never saw Elsie Gayland do before.
"'You've got to go with me to see Doctor Phelps about Tim!' she
said. 'I can manage to get leave of absence for both of us in one way
or another, for I am desperate enough to accomplish anything.'
"'LOOKING AT HER HAND A DOZEN TIMES A DAY.'"
"Doctor Phelps listened like a father to Elsie's confession of her
thoughtlessness in giving Tim such a nervous shock. 'I used to dabble
in phrenology and chiromancy, and such things, when I was young,' he
said. 'As guides to character they are certainly interesting and often
helpful, but, one should remember, by no means infallible.'
"Then he showed us a little mark on his palm. 'Years ago,' he said, 'I
was told that that presaged an early death by drowning. It was to
occur between the ages of twenty and twenty-five, and although I was
on the water almost daily, I never had the slightest accident. I am
over sixty now. Had I been a nervous man, I would probably have
suffered much from my apprehensions of danger. Tell that to Miss
Talbot for her comfort.'
"He walked back to school with us, and while he waited for Miss Hill
to be summoned, Elsie went up-stairs to get her book. When she came
down there was the queerest expression on her face I ever saw. 'I
have made such a mistake!' she said, in an embarrassed way. 'I can
never forgive myself for it. I mistook one line for another, and the
one in Tim's hand means something entirely different from what I
thought it did. That poor little soul has been suffering all this time
solely on account of my ignorance!'
"Doctor Phelps smiled. 'When I was a lad,' he said, 'there was a
couplet in my grammar that I often had to parse, which ran in this
"'A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring!'"
"Tim's father came to-day. Doctor Phelps telegraphed for him
immediately after leaving here yesterday, and they have taken her away
to a sanitarium. Doctor Phelps said that she was not able to stand the
long journey home, and that her nervous condition was so serious that
she must have immediate attention.
"Elsie is inconsolable, although Doctor Phelps assures her that Tim
would undoubtedly have broken down before the close of the year, from
the mere strain of school life; she is such a delicate little thing."
"Just a month to-day since Tim left. It will be a full year before she
is well and strong again, Doctor Phelps says, and maybe longer. He was
invited to speak in the chapel, this morning, and I wish you could
have heard what he said on the influence of the imagination. He told
some comical stories of patients he had had, who could imagine
themselves possessed of a new disease every week.
"Then he spoke of clairvoyants, and mediums, and fortune-tellers of
every kind. 'It is one of the kindest provisions of Providence,' he
added, 'that we are allowed to see only one minute at a time. Suppose
that we could look ahead into the years, and see some terrible
calamity coming upon us, with the deadly certainty that every
nightfall was bringing it one step nearer. What an agony of
apprehension we would be in as the month approached—then the week,
the day, and finally the hour! What man could stand the strain of such
"'Or, suppose it were some joy that we looked forward to. When it came
it would be robbed of its bloom by those long years of constant
anticipation. It is the unexpected good fortune, the bits of happiness
that come to us as complete surprises, which give us the keenest
thrills of enjoyment.'
"'ASKED ME TO HUNT UP ALL THE REFERENCES'"
"Whatever Doctor Phelps says is law and gospel with Elsie Gayland, and
as she never does anything half-way, I was not surprised when she
walked into my room with her book on chiromancy, and put it in the
fire. As she stood, grimly watching it burn, she said: 'I thought I
should go through the floor when Doctor Phelps called me into the
library just now. He gave me this big concordance, and asked me to
hunt up all the references in my Bible under the words "hand" and
"path," and all the promises for guidance and safety that are given to
those who commit themselves into the Eternal keeping. He wants me to
read them to Timoroso sometime soon, for he says that nothing but an
abiding consciousness that she is in the hollow of an Omnipotent hand
will bring her the peace of mind that is essential to her recovery.'"
Olive gathered the letters together, and as she tied them with the
white and scarlet ribbons, Helen came back from her frosty drive.
"I thought you would want to hear the sequel," she said, smiling at
their eager questions, as she sat down to the cup of steaming
chocolate that Sara poured for her.
"Timoroso is entirely well now. She spent this winter in the south of
France, and I want you to see the calendar she sent me this Christmas.
Such a beautiful little water colour, with the text illuminated as the
old monks used to do it."
Sara and Olive leaned over her shoulder to examine the card Helen took
from her desk, and read the verse together, half under their breath:
"Build a little fence of trust
Fill the space with loving deeds
And therein stay.
Look not through the sheltering bars
God will help thee bear what comes
Of joy or sorrow."
Helen did not see the glance that passed between the girls as they
finished reading, but she was not surprised that there was never
anything more said about consulting the clairvoyant at the Metropole.