Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Tuesday, April 6, 2021


 "John Merrill's Experiment in Palmistry" by Florence M. Kingsley  (from One of Those Coincidences an Ten Other Tales by Julian Hawthorne and Others, edited anonymously, 1899; any previous publication unknown)

John Merrill, the genial, clear-headed editor of The Weekly Protest -- a newspaper devoted to opposing "machine politics, corner saloons, and breweries" -- had made the paper popular, not necessarily because of its editorial stance, but because Merrill could not help but inject a bit of humor in its contents, particularly in its otherwise hard-hitting editorials.

Told that there was a visitor to see him, Merrill asked that he be shown in.  It was a small negro boy dressed in scarlet and purple costume, looking as if he had come out of a fairy tale.  The boy handed Merrill an envelope containing an invitation from a palm reader who called himself Palmad, son of Thutmos, offering to read his future gratis, if only he would follow the messenger.  Although he could little spare the time, the message tickled Merrill's fancy -- and perhaps he could get a story out of it.  He followed the boy to a once fashionable home, ascended the stairs and entered a door marked in large gold lettering "PALMAD, THE SEER."

The place was both strange and fantastic.  Aromatic smoke from a censor filled the rooms whose walls were covered in Eastern draperies.  There was a statue of Buddha, a ring of fresh lotus blossoms around his neck.  Throughout the room there were displays of strange weapons and oddly formed and colored pottery.  Palmad emerged from behind a drape and took Merrill's hand...

Over an hour later, Merrill was on his way back to his office, somewhat impressed with the palmist, who had said that Merrill's star was going rise significantly within the next five years.  Offsetting that was the palmist's bold statement that Merrill had married the wrong woman.  Or, more to the point, Merrill was not suitably married.  That was the one false note in the entire reading -- Merrill had been deeply in love with his wife since they were children.  Nonetheless, Merrill wrote a positive article about the seer.

I mentioned in above that Merrill was genial and clear-headed.  It turns out that that statement was not quite true.  When Merrill came home that evening, he found that his wife was not there.  This disturbed him.  After waiting supper for a while, he and his children sat down to eat.  The mutton was tough.  This disturbed him even more.  By the time his wife arrived from her shopping trip, Merrill was in a bad mood.

Over the next few days, Merrill's behavior began to be influenced by what the palmist had told him about his marriage.  His wife noticed a strange aloofness about him, his friends found him more taciturn and less genial, his word suffered as his mood began to be reflected in his newspaper, subscribers began dropping the weekly, and Merrill did not fully realize what was happening to him.

Eventually he was chatting with a fellow newspaper editor -- one who had also interviewed the seer and printed an article about him -- and discovered that the man he had interviewed had been arrested as a fake.  The man was not the internationally known palmist, but a con man named Jonas Smart, who had learned of the real Palmad's intention to visit the city through the palmist's advanced ads and took the opportunity to impersonate him before the real deal arrived.  Using the publicity gained through the articles written about him, as well as a lot of props and trappings,  Smart as able to fleece a good many citizens.

Suddenly the fog lifted from Merrill's head.  He had been taken for a chump and had been influenced by a man who knew nothing about palmistry and who invented his patter from whole cloth.  He rushed out and bought flowers for his long-suffering wife, regained his genial self, and set his newspaper back on its rather successful tract.

And from that time on, he refused to believe in palmistry.

Florence Kingsley (1859-1934) was a author of both popular and religious fiction.  One of her most popular works was Titus:  A Comrade of the Cross (1895), which Mrs. Kingsley had submitted for a contest for a work "that would inspire a child's faith in Christ."; the novel sold over 200,000 copies in six weeks.  A note at states, "This work has been selected by scholars as being culturally important and is part of the knowledge base of civilization as we know it."  She later published a sequel, Stephen:  A Soldier of the Cross (1896) and the epic The Cross Triumphant (1898).  IMDb lists six credits for Florence Morse Kinsley, from 1917 to 1918; at least two of her popular novels were filmed:  To the Highest Bidder (1918), featuring Alice Joyce, Percy Standing, and Walter McGrail, and Cupid Forecloses (1919, based on Kingsley's novel Hurrying Fate and Geraldine), featuring Bessie Love, Dorothea Wolbert, and Wallace MacDonald.

One of Those Coincidences and Ten Other Stories by Julian Hawthorne and Others is available to read online.

1 comment:

  1. I guess the influence of what we see as expert opinion tell us will always affect behavior.