Anyone want their fortune told?
Stawell, Victoria 1915
Gas lights flickered through the upstairs windows of the Mechanics Institute as darkness fell. The hesitant notes of a piano filled the evening air, accompanied by shrill and discordant voices.
The party was a disaster. Ruby had thought of nothing else for weeks. The tedious hours at work were made bearable by thoughts of the new dress she was creating in her spare time. Inspired by Paris fashions it was sure to make an impression.
Instead, a fog of despair had descended upon the group of disparate people. Frank, who normally played the piano, was away fighting in the Great War. Bella was trying valiantly to take his place but as she thumped on the yellowed ivories of the old Lipp, no one danced and only a few stalwarts sang. To make matters worse the only males present were those too unfit or too old to go to war.
Ruby’s eyes searched the room, resting briefly on an unfamiliar face. She gave May Sharp a conspiratorial nudge on the arm.
“Is that the Railway Man from Melbourne?”
May smoothed her wayward hair, turning to look at the stranger critically. “Actually, he’s from the Newport Workshops and is a wood machinist. Wife died five years ago. He’s here to refit some old carriages. Used to be a footballer for Williamstown and his name is Walter.”
“Well, aren’t you are a fountain of knowledge!” Ruby was impressed by May’s rapid outburst.
“I know all about him,” said May importantly, “because he’s staying at Mrs Owen’s place and she is friends with my mother.”
In those few moments, Ruby had learnt enough to pique her interest. However, she felt it unseemly to brazenly introduce herself so cast her mind about for a diversion.
Bella struggled to the last chord of “Till the Boys Come Home”, closing the piano lid with a bang. “Well that’s my contribution,” she said amiably and was met with a muted round of applause.
Harold, the bookish son of the local schoolteacher, nervously suggested a game of charades but this was met with unenthusiastic murmurs. A silence descended.
“Anyone want their fortune told?” Ruby said impetuously. “I read palms.”
Almost immediately a crowd formed in front of her as she sat down at a table and twirled a scarf around her head. Anything to relieve the boredom.
Bess, the butcher’s daughter, was first. She proffered her hand. Ruby stared at the lines and creases, the red patches and scars.
“You have a long life line. I can see a romance on the horizon – someone who has been in the War.”
“Is it Fred?” Bess was hesitant.
“No, it’s someone you have never met before. He’ll be here on business and you will have a choice. Leave with him and have a life of travel and excitement or stay and lead a safe and boring existence.”
Bess was glowing as she left the table. Next came Millicent, then Edna. All left with hope on their faces as they shared their exciting futures with their friends.
Ruby looked up in with a frisson of excitement as the pleasant, symmetrical face of Walter Lane appeared. Close up she realised he was older than she had first thought.
She took his large hand somewhat tentatively. Even though his palms were calloused and rough the nails were neatly trimmed and clean. The lifeline ran strongly before it split into two deep valleys.
“I see you have had great sadness in your past,” she began. “You can see no future beyond your great loss. Life has lost its appeal.”
He said nothing but she could sense his silent acknowledgement of her words.
“You will find new hope. A wonderful, enchanting woman will come into your life and turn sadness into joy. You will have children around you and happiness in your old age.”
Walter was soon replaced by the next eager participant and Ruby spent another hour using her lively imagination to foresee the future of those around her. However, she needed no powers of the occult to know that Walter’s eyes followed her for the rest of the evening.