Saturday, May 16, 2015

Ashley Sterne Handy Craft

Here is a one of Ashley Sterne's later comic articles, from The Telegraph (Brisbane, Queensland), March 27th 1935.  The writing is graceful, concise, and witty.

By Ashley Sterne

I'm what they call a rationalist.  That is to say, I will walk under a ladder with the best of under-ladder walkers.  I will spill the salt, or any other member of the cruet, at the dinner-table, and never give a hang.  I don't regard the number thirteen as more sinister or disreputable than any other of our more popular numbers.  And I keep a horseshoe on my front door wrong way up.  There's nerve for you!  All the same —

When Mrs. Murcher — an elderly lady-friend of mine, who is fifteen stone of walking superstition — prodded me on the shirt-front with a sausage-stick at a cocktail-party the other night, and asked me if I thought of going to Divina, I replied with my best cocktail-party swank: —

"No, I usually winter at Rapello," and jingled threepence and a latchkey to register leisure and independent means.

"Divina, my dear Augustus," she explained, "is not a place.  It's— she's a seeress.  The most wonderful woman, who lives in the most marvellous flat in Park Lane you ever saw."

As I'd never entered any flat in Park Lane I accepted the latter part of her statement without question.  As regards the former:—

"What's there so wonderful about her?" I asked.

"My dear boy, the things she tells you!  They're incredible!"

"So are the things every woman tells me."

"Tcha!  Listen. I suppose Madame Divina is what some vulgar people would call a palmist "

"A detective would, for example?"

"Er — possibly. But the point is she's not. She's a cheirosophist "

"That's to say, she's a palmist spelt differently. To be bald, you can't be prosecuted if you call yourself a cheirosophist, what?"

"Really, Augustus, you musn't hint such things.  Madame Divina is a highly cultured lady.  Roedean and Newnham.  I know you're a sceptic over such matters, but some months ago she told Mr. Murcher about the coming rise in gold shares, and, to use his own expression as nearly as I can remember it, he packed up a picket."

"Picked up a packet, you mean, perhaps?"

"Something to that effect," Mrs. Murcher nodded.  "Five hundred pounds, anyway."

I pricked up my ears.  That's the kind of cheirosophy I can understand and appreciate — an innate flair for discerning wealth in the offing; like water-divining, only more lucrative.  I asked a few questions.  It transpired that Mrs. Murcher's sister's legacy had been correctly cheirosophised to three places of decimals, as also had Mrs. Murcher's nephew's engagement to Bella Pauncefort, the Silkworthy heiress.  Divina had also advised Mrs. Murcher's brother-in- law to buy Irish sweep tickets, and he had bought eight (I think) and had won £246,000 (or something).  At least, that, without the brackets, was the impression Mrs. Murcher gave me.

"You simply must go!" she urged me. "Everybody's flocking to her."

I promised I would flock.  The fact was that I had had rather a bad year financially.  My health, too, had been none of the best. And my golf had devolved into a mixture of fox-and-geese and deep-level mining.  I badly needed encouraging.  

So one afternoon I pocketed my rationalism and called on Madame Divina.

"You have a very good life-line," she said, indicating something on my palm with a little orange-stick.  

"Well, that's not much good to me now." I observed. "I've used most of it.  Have I got a wealthy wife-line, or other stimulating token?"

"I'm afraid — "

"Try the other hand," I said.  "I forgot to mention that I'm ambidextrous."  And I swopped palms uninvited.  Divina gave one glance at the new one, and drew her breath in sharply.

"Oh, dear, dear!" she murmured. "Do you speculate?"

"Mentally,'' I replied.  "Not stockily or sharily."

"Gamble, then?  Horses or cards?"

I assured her I didn't know the difference between Windsor Lad and the Curse of Scotland, and that the only gambling I ever did was to drop into a church bazaar occasionally and try to guess the weight of the cake.

"Well, that's curious," she said, prodding a slight burn I had recently sustained from the splintered head of a safety-match.  "This little 'mount,' as cheirosophists call it, indicates a serious loss of money."

"How much does the mount say it amounts to?"

"That I can't tell, but it is considerably more than you can afford."

This is all wrong, I thought to myself.  This is where, if there's anything genuine about this cheirosophy racket, she ought to say: "Invest every farthing you can raise in Baggawalla Pearl Mine" or, "Your Uncle Thomas in British Columbia will die of ingrowing gumboils in February, and will bequeath you fifty million tins of canned salmon," or, "You will marry Greta Garbo next Tuesday week, and live luxuriously ever afterwards."

"How do I lose it?" I ventured to ask.

"Well, if you don't speculate and don't gamble, it probably means that your bank will close down."

I thought of my thirty-odd pounds overdraft, and prayed devoutly it might be so.  

"Or you may be robbed in the street or burgled."

"Ah, well!" I sighed, rising.  "I think I'll be pushing along, if that's the best you can do for five shillings."  And I laid two half-crowns on the little table.

"Pardon me," said Madame, tartly, "but my consultation fee is five guineas."

I looked at her aghast.  Mrs. Murcher had distinctly said five shillings; as distinctly, that is, as a mouthful of sausage and a couple of salted gherkins would allow.  Five guineas, anyhow, was ridiculous.  I didn't compel Divina to practise in Park Lane.  I had never insisted that the consulting-room should be crowded with orchids.  I saw no reason for her wearing a pendant with a diamond the size of a poached egg.  Divina was not going to swing that "overhead charges" nonsense on me.

"Sorry!" I muttered, putting my hand into my inner breast-pocket.  "I didn't quite understand that cheirosophy was so expensive.  It's so different from palmistry, isn't it?  At our last bazaar I got an excellent palmiscope for a shilling.  Unfortunately, it wasn't true."

"My cheiroscopes are always true," announced Divina, sternly.

"So I find," I retorted.  "I must have been robbed in the street.  My note case is — look! —empty!  Those two half-crowns are all I've got.  Er — could you lend me tuppence for my bus-fare home? . . .  Well, a penny, then?  I live in Whitehall — New Scotland Ya—"

Madame Divina dropped my two half-crowns as though they had suddenly become incandescent. . . . We had a brief, non-cheiroscopic chat.  "Good afternoon," I said, making to grasp the timid, quivering hand she coyly extended to me.  Instead, I turned it over, gazed for a moment at the palm, and then tapped it with my forefinger.  

"You're going to lose some money," I said.  And I picked up my two half-crowns.

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