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   Chapter 20 ZERO, THE SOOTHSAYER

The Twelfth Hour By Ada Leverson Characters: 15520

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Mrs. Ogilvie looked more Egyptian than ever to-day. She always dressed for her parts; and as a believer in the Unseen, she felt it right, in honour of the sibyl, to wear her hair very low, with some green pins in it, long earrings, and a flowing gown, with Japanese sleeves.

"Vera, you're almost in fancy dress," said Felicity, as she arrived. "It's very becoming; but why?"

"Am I, dear? Well, it's as a sort of compliment to this wonderful girl. I've been draping the little boudoir with gold embroideries-and burning joss-sticks, too (though they give me a headache). I thought it would bring out her gift-make her feel more at home, you know."

"Good gracious, is she an Algerian or an Indian or anything?"

"Oh dear no, darling. Of course not. She's a Highlander, that's all. It runs in her family. To know things that haven't happened, I mean."

"But that will happen?"

"I hope so, I'm sure. She's in there," said Vera, pointing to a beaded curtain, that concealed the small drawing-room. "She's gazing into the crystal for Bob Henderson. You shall go next, darling."

"I should have imagined Captain Henderson the very last person in the world to dabble in the occult, as they call it in the newspapers. I should have thought he would laugh at superstition."

"Oh, so he does, dear, but he wants to know what's going to win the Derby."

"From all I've heard about racing," said Felicity, "if he wants to know that, he'd better wait till it's run."

"Oh, Felicity, don't cast a sort of damper on the thing before him! Perhaps he'll be converted. He may take it quite seriously now. It would do him good, he's so matter-of-fact."

At this moment a very loud and hearty laugh was heard, and Captain Henderson appeared through the beaded curtain and joined them.

"What a long time you've been," said Vera.

"She's a pretty girl," said Captain Henderson.

"Any success?" asked Felicity.

"She saw some horses in the crystal. But as she didn't know their names, it was no earthly use to me. Says I'll back the winner for a place, though. She's got second-rate sight-second sight, I mean."

"A great many of these old Highland families have," said Felicity seriously, to please Vera.

"Have they, though? She says she's half Irish," said Henderson, with his characteristic puzzled look. "She's been telling my character too-reading between the lines, you know, the lines on my hand. She doesn't seem to think much of me, Mrs. Ogilvie." He laughed again.

"As soon as she's had some tea," said Vera, ringing, "you must go in, Felicity. We mustn't tire her. It's frightfully exhausting work."

"Must be," assented Bob.

"It takes it out of her ever so much more with some people than with others," said Vera.

"Ah, it would," said Bob solemnly, shaking his head.

"I suppose complicated people are more wearing than the simpler kind," said Felicity. "There's more in them to find out."

"You mean it must have been pretty plain sailing with me?" said Henderson.

Here Wilton arrived.

"There's something about the tone of your delightful home to-day," he said as he greeted Vera, "that makes me feel curiously Oriental. I don't exactly know what it is, but I feel I want to sit down cross-legged on a mat and smoke a hookah. How do you account for it?"

"You 'hear the East a-calling,' and all that sort of thing," said Henderson, laughing. "Eh?"

"Yes. But perhaps after all it's only the east wind. No, it's the incense some one's been burning. At your shrine, of course, Mrs. Ogilvie. What a talent you have for creating the right atmosphere."

Vera was highly flattered.

"And now I think you might go in, Felicity," she said.

* * *

Felicity found a young girl with bright pleasant eyes, seated in front of a little yellow table. She had a magnifying-glass on one side of her and a crystal ball on the other. She was very neatly dressed in the tailor-made style, and had no superfluous decorations of any kind. Anything less like a sibyl could not be easily imagined.

Felicity took off her glove and placed her hand on a yellow cushion. As she did so, she remembered charming things that Chetwode had said about her hands, how he had compared them to white flowers; and she sighed....

"You're vurry sensitive indeed," said the palmist, with a slight American accent. "Your nerves seem to me to be vibrating."

"But isn't that usual?" said Felicity shyly. "I thought nerves always did."

"Just hold the crystal in your hand for a minute or two. Thank you. Ah! there's a slight cloud on your horizon at this moment, but it will pass away-I see it passing away."

"What else do you see?"

"I see you in a large space surrounded by a hurrying crowd. There are bookstalls, trucks of luggage, trains, I can't say precisely what it is."

"Surely a railway station?" said Felicity.

"You are perfectly right. I should fancy from this that you are either going to take a journey by rail, or that you are going to see a friend off."

"Do you advise me to take the journey?"

"I fear advice one way or the other would have vurry little effect. I am a believer in Fate. Either you're going to take that journey, or you're not, in spite of anything I may suggest to the contrary."

And the palmist smiled archly, then leant back and closed her eyes. Felicity wondered if she were tired with the noise of the railway station. But she opened them suddenly, and took Felicity's hand, which she looked at through the magnifying-glass.

"This is a most interesting hand. Mrs. Ogilvie's gentleman friend, who was in here just now, also had a vurry interesting hand. She's a lovely woman, and her hand is most interesting too...."

She paused.

"You have a curious temperament. You are easily impressed by the personality of other people. You are impulsive and emotional, and yet you have a remarkable amount of calm judgment, so that you can analyse, and watch your own feelings and those of the other persons as well as if it were a matter of indifference to you. Your strong affections never blind you to the faults and weaknesses of their object, and those faults do not make you care for them less, but in some cases attach you even more strongly. You are fond of gaiety; your moods vary easily, because you vibrate to music, bright surroundings, and sympathy. But you have depth, and in an emergency I should say you could be capable even of heroism. You have an astonishing amount of intuition."

"What a horrid little creature!" said Felicity.

"Your tact and knowledge of how to deal with people are so natural to you that you are scarcely conscious of them. You should have been the wife of a great diplomatist."

"But aren't they always very ugly?" asked Felicity.

"You're not as trivial as you wish to appear," replied the palmist; "you are very frank and straightforward, but reserved on subjects that are nearest your heart.... Is there any question you would like to ask me?"

"I should like to know," said Felicity, giving herself away as the most sceptical victim always does, "whether the person I care for is true to me."

As she said the words she thought they sounded as if she were a sentimental shop-girl whose young man had shown signs of ceasing his attentions. And why not? She felt exactly like that shop-girl. It was precisely the same thing.

The palmist smiled sympathetically, and said, "He has no other thought but you. Believe me, you are his one object, and he will be true to you through life."

"And how on earth can you see that?" said Felicity, unreasonably cheered, though inclined to laugh.

"I can't say. It's not possible to explain these things; but here, you see, your Fate line is a wonderfully good one, and it goes

parallel (if I may say so) with the heart line. Now, if the Life line had crossed it, or reached the Mount of Luna-well, I should have said you were destined to disappointment in love. But that is not so. You have a lucky hand. You have artistic tastes, but would never work in any direction, except the social-that is why I say a diplomatic circle would have suited you."

Felicity feared the soothsayer was getting rather bored with her, so she said-

"Thank you. Have you any advice to give me before I go?"

"Yes. It would be to your advantage if you used your head less and followed your natural impulses more."

"Then I must throw something at Chetwode's head when I see him," thought Felicity.

As she got up, "I see two beautiful children in your hand," added the palmist.

"Oh, when?" said Felicity, starting, and accidentally knocking down the crystal ball.

"Within the next few years," answered the palmist cautiously.

* * *

"Now it's my turn," said Bertie, as Felicity joined them. "Do tell me," he said in an undertone, "was there anything about me in your hand?"

"Rather not-not a trace of you. Why, what did you expect?"

"Oh, then I don't think much of her. I thought at least she would see my initials all over your lifeline. I assure you, any good palmist would. I'm afraid she's a fraud."

"I trust not. She was rather consoling," said Felicity thoughtfully.

"She was wonderful with me," said Vera, as Bertie disappeared. "I wonder what her nationality really is."

"Thought you said she was a Highlander." Bob looked more puzzled than ever.

"Well, so she is, partly. In a way. Unless I'm mixing her up with some one else."

"And yet Zero isn't a Scotch name," remarked Felicity thoughtfully.

"No; and it's a rotten name too-doesn't suit her a bit. But it's not her real name. On her card is Miss Cora G. Donovan," said Bob.

"How do you know?" asked Vera sharply.

"Well, I had to ask her address. I've got to see her again, don't you know. Before the Derby. To make sure. Only fair to give it a chance," said Bob, rather apologetically.

"She's an Irish American," decided Felicity.

"Is she? I dare say she is. I wonder what she'll say to Wilton now," said Bob meditatively.

"Bertie will tell her everything he knows about himself, and about every one else in whom either he or she takes the slightest interest. Then he'll go on to tell her character, and prophesy her future, and she'll confide in him, and he'll give her good advice. He always tells fortune-tellers their fortune. That's why he's so popular in the occult world," said Felicity.

"Wonder they stand it," said Bob.

"Why, naturally, they enjoy it. Mustn't they get frightfully bored, poor things, with talking all the time about other people, and be only too thankful and delighted to be allowed to talk about themselves a little? Fancy how refreshing it must be; what a relief! Think of the tedium of always bothering about perfect strangers-pretending to care about their luck and their love affairs, their fortunes and their failures, and all their silly little private affairs. It must be absolutely fascinating for them to meet a person so interested in other people as Bertie."

"Perhaps he only does it out of kindness," said Vera. "I shouldn't wonder. Asks them questions and shows interest just to please them."

"Well, I call it infernal cheek," said Bob resentfully.

"Not at all. Some people aren't always absorbed in themselves," said Vera, with a reproachful look as she gave Bob a cup of tea.

At this moment Sylvia was announced. She looked very happy and excited.

"I hope I'm not too late. I only want to ask Madame Zero one question. I shan't be a moment."

"Of course you shall, dear, and I know you won't keep her long, as she'll be very tired now after seeing us all. Now, Sylvia"-Vera turned to Felicity-"is unusual. She's neither curious about other people nor intensely interested in herself."

"I don't mind how interested people are in themselves, so long as they're interesting people," said Felicity.

"Do you call it taking too much interest in oneself to want to back a winner just once-for a change? I had tips straight from the stable about three horses yesterday, at Haydock Park. And I give you my word, Lady Chetwode, they all went down."

"Dead certainties never seem to do anything else," Felicity answered.

"Mind you, it was partly my own fault," continued Bob. "If I'd had the sense to back Little Lady for the Warrington Handicap Hurdle Race-as any chap in his senses would have done after her out-jumping the favourite and securing a lead at the final obstacle in the Stayer Steeplechase, I should have got home on the day-or at any rate on the week. But then, you see, I'd seen her twice refuse at the water-and I was a bit too cautious, I suppose!"

"You generally are," murmured Vera, but he did not hear, having sunk into a racing reverie.

Bertie appeared through the curtains.

"I congratulate you, Mrs. Ogilvie. Your soothsayer is a marvel."

"Isn't she!" triumphantly said his hostess.

"It's the most extraordinary thing I ever came across in my life. She simply took my breath away. Yes, tea, please. She's a genius."

"Does she seem very exhausted? Or do you think Sylvia might just ask her one question?"

"Oh, surely-Miss Sylvia's so reposeful," said Bertie. "I fancy I could answer the one question myself," he added in a low voice to Sylvia, as he held the curtains back for her to pass.

"She's been a success with you, I see," said Felicity.

"She has, indeed! She got right there every time-as she would say herself in her quaint Eastern phraseology. She has one of the most remarkable personalities I ever met. No one would believe what that girl has gone through in her life-and she's been so brave and plucky through it all! Did you notice what remarkable hands she has?"

"I told you so," laughed Felicity. "She's been confiding in Bertie and he's told her fortune! I knew it."

Bertie coloured slightly as he ate a pink cake.

"Shouldn't have thought that of her," grumbled Bob. "She seemed a sensible sort of girl."

"My dear Henderson, don't be absurd. After her wonderful divination about me, of course I couldn't help asking her a few questions as to how she developed the gift-and so on-and she told me the most amazing things."

"She would, I'm sure," said Vera sympathetically. "I wonder if she'll tell Sylvia anything about what Mr. Ridokanaki is doing."

"Oh, I can tell you all about him," said Bertie readily. "He's having a very good time in Paris just now. I hear he's always about with the Beaugardes. Miss Beaugarde's a very pretty girl just out of her convent. Her mother's working it for all she's worth. Clever woman. I shouldn't be surprised if it came off, if Madame Beaugarde can make him believe the girl's in love with him for himself."

"You see we really need no sibyls and soothsayers when we have Bertie," said Felicity. "To know him really is a liberal education. He knows everything."

"Sort of walking Harmsworth's Self-educator," said Bob rather bitterly, as he took his hat.

Sylvia returned, evidently content. She told Felicity afterwards that Madame Zero had seen her in the crystal in a large building of a sacred character, dressed all in white and holding a bouquet. The sound of the chanting of sweet boys' voices was in the air. What could it possibly mean?

* * *

Whether or not Madame Zero had demonstrated her gifts so convincingly as to have converted a sceptic, there was no doubt that she had perceptibly raised the spirits of the whole party (not excluding her own), so the séance was quite deservedly pronounced an immense success.

* * *

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