Stars and Stockings

THE Palmist-Lady spread my hand open like a horse-chestnut leaf, pinched it and pulled it, palm and fingers.

‘You have a composite hand, my dear,’ she said, with the air of one who imparts a deep mystery. ‘Your hand is half-idealistic and half-practical. You live a great deal in the regions of your mind; you have a strong imagination; you like study and reading ’ (this again with an important smile); — ‘in fact, the length of your fingers and the shape and texture of your whole hand ’ — she squeezed it together like an accordeon of little bones — ‘ indicate clearly the artistic temperament. You are fond of poetry; you would make a success at lecturing,’ — I shuddered,

—‘you are musical, too. But, — ’ she paused dramatically, — ‘while I see these strong artistic indications, you are not one of the unpractical up-in-theair sort. Your fingers are spatulate, blunt at the tips, you see; so that, though the length and tapering of them is artistic, they are really a combination. You like to use your hands; you can sew and cook and tinker things together. It you had been a man you might have made a good carpenter or house-decorator. Really,’she said, laying down my hand and beaming upon me from under her peroxide pompadour, ‘you have a most fortunate hand; you have capacities for doing almost anything that you want to; and such a balance of the idealistic and the practical will always keep you from going to extremes.’

Then she resumed the study of my mounts and lines, and I heard with more or less edification about my future husband and possible financial affairs.

But before I departed, the Palmist-Lady patted my fingers with the patronage of a stout and kindly sibyl, and repeated,—

‘You ought to be a very thankful young woman, to have such a balance of qualities. Why, it’s a most fortunate hand: you’ll never get into trouble with such a hand as that.’

I thanked her and said farewell. Save for the future husband and windfall of money, I could find little fault with the truth of what she had ‘seen’ in my hand. But as I went away, I could not altogether agree with her flattering conclusions as to the blessedness of my dual temperament.

It seems to me that the chief stress of my life has arisen from the civil war of precisely those two tendencies, the artistic and the practical.

My artistic self and I lie under the pine tree in the backyard, staring blankly and gloriously into the blue; we purr and bask and begin to see a vision; — when up bounces my practical self, fetches us a slap on the ears, and cries,‘Up! Up! the stockings are to darn, the pickles are to brew, and there’s company coming to supper!’

Or again, my practical self and I are being happy over trimming a hat or refreshing a sorrowful chair with a glad garment of black paint. We pin and tie, or mix and slap with a swinging brush-stroke, when my artistic half peers in at us, and smiles cynically. ‘Folly!’ he says, in the scornful music of his heaven-haunted voice. ‘What earthly treasure you prepare for moth and rust! The hat is a cheap vanity; the chair will moulder in the garret; and here am I with a song to sing, and a vision of strong angels to body forth. Come away! Come away!’

My state becomes like that of a man with two friends, very dear to him but very hateful to each other. They cannot leave him alone, for it seems to each that the society of the other will corrupt him eternally. So they are forever interrupting, quarreling, inventing pretexts; making the poor man’s life a veritable Bedlam of thwarted desires to please them both. From one to the other he is tossed like a shuttlecock, till often he wishes he could cast himself on the bosom of one, and stay there in single peace. But this he cannot do, for are they not both his friends? Has he not deathless joy in both? Could he support life if the comradeship of either were denied him for long?

So is it with me and my dual self. Often enough have I longed to sweep and sew and plan and patch; to serve my family in all humility; to ask nothing of my friends save gossiping laughter, and nothing of my life save day-to-day worship, labor, delight, and weariness. It seems as if that would be a very normal, heaven-blessed life for a woman.

But I cannot reach such a rest. All the stars of heaven lean down and touch me with keen, white, urgent fingers, and then I think, “Oh, to fly sunwards and starwards! Why should I sweep a room that to-morrow will be even as dusty? Why should I dress myself delicatelyand go out to chatter with folk who forget me in an hour? I have a song to sing: let me sing it, World! for I would fling something of myself to Eternity, not to the grinding juggernaut of Time! ’

Truly, kind Palmist-Lady, this is no good state for a woman who is neither great enough to follow stars, nor small enough to be blind to them!