The singer paused abruptly

“The sea, the sea, the open sea;
The blue, the fresh, the ever free,”

chanted the fresh and delicious voice of a young girl walking along the
sands of the seashore in the summer sunshine at Cape May.

“Cross my palm with silver, and I’ll tell your fortune, bonnie maid,”
said a cracked, discordant voice.

The singer paused abruptly, and looked at the owner of the voice–a
lean, decrepit old hag, who extended her withered hand imploringly.

“Nay, now, good soul,” answered she, with a merry laugh, “fortune will
come to me anyway, even if I keep my silver piece.”

“Aye–aye, it will,” said the old crone, wagging her head like a bird
of evil omen; “it aye comes to faces as bonny as your own. But it’s I
that can tell you whether it be good or ill fortune.”

“Here, then,” said the girl, still laughing, and putting a silver piece
into the trembling old hand; “be cheerful, now, and tell me a brave
fortune for my money.”

The old sibyl did not appear to relish the light and jesting tone
of the other, and stood for a moment gazing at her in grave and
portentous silence.

What a contrast the two presented as they stood looking at each other!

The girl was beautiful, with all the delicate freshness and slimness of
eighteen. She was a dazzling blonde, with sea-blue eyes, and hair like
spun gold falling beneath her jaunty sailor hat in long, loose curls
to her graceful waist. She was fair as a lily, with a flush like the
heart of a sea-shell on her round, dimpled cheeks. Her brow was fair
and broad, and fringed with soft, childish rings of sunny hair. Her
nose was small and straight; her mouth was curved like Cupid’s bow, its
short, exquisite upper lip lending a touch of archness to the patrician
mold of her features. The small, delicately shaped hands and feet were
in keeping with the rare beauty of her face and form. She was simply
clad in a jaunty sailor costume of dark blue serge trimmed with white
braid and pearl buttons, and carried a volume of poems in her gloved
hand.

As contrasted with this peerless beauty and youthful grace the old
sibyl appeared hideous as a fiend beside an angel.

She was diminutive in stature, and bent nearly double with the weight
of years. Her scanty, streaming white hair was in odd contrast with
the dark, parchment-like skin and jet-black eyes that sparkled with
a keen and unnatural brightness. A wicked, malevolent expression was
the prevailing cast of her wrinkled features, and her cheeks and lips
having fallen in upon her toothless gums, converted her grim smile into
a most Satanic grin. The dreadful old beldam was attired in a _melange_
of ancient and faded finery, consisting of a frayed and dirty quilted
satin petticoat and an overdress of rich brocade, whose original
brilliant oriental hues were almost obliterated by time and ill-usage.
She gathered these faded relics about her with a certain air of pride
as she said to the young girl:

“Sit ye down upon the stone there, and let me look at your palm.”

She was obeyed with a demure smile by the listener, who drew off her
glove and presented the loveliest hand in the world for inspection–a
lily-white hand, small, and dimpled, and tapering, with rosy palm and
tips–a perfect hand that might have been enclosed in a glass case and
looked at only as a “thing of beauty.”

The sibyl took that dainty bit of flesh and blood into her brown,
wrinkled claws, and scanned it intently.

“You are well-born,” she said, slowly.

“You can tell that much by the shape of my nose, I suppose,” laughed
the girl, mischievously.

The old hag glanced at the elegant, aristocratic little member in
question and frowned.

“I can tell by your hand,” said she, shortly: “Not but that it is
written on your features also–for you are very beautiful.”

“Others have told me so before,” said the girl, with her musical,
light-hearted laugh.

“Peace, will-‘o-the-wisp!” said the old woman, sternly. “Do not pride
yourself upon that fatal gift! You are lovely as an angel, but your
beauty will be your _bane_.”

“But beauty wins _love_,” cried the listener, artlessly, while a rosy
blush stained her fair brow and cheeks.

“Aye, aye, it wins love,” was the crusty answer. “Your life will have
enough of love, be sure. But beauty wins _hate_, too. The love that is
lavished on you will be shadowed and darkened by the hate your fair
face will inspire. Do not think you will be happy because you are
beautiful. Years of wretchedness lie before you!”

“Oh! no,” said the girl, with an involuntary shiver.

“It is true,” said the sibyl, peering into the hand that she held. “If
you could read this little pink palm as I do, you would go wild with
the horror of it. The line of life is crossed with sorrows. Sorrow and
shame lie darkly over your future.”




“Not _shame_,” said the young girl, cresting her small head with a
queenly gesture of pride. “Sorrow, perhaps; but never _shame_!”

“It is written,” answered the old woman, sharply. “Do you think to
alter the decrees of fate with your idle words, proud girl? No, no;
there will be a stain on the whiteness of your life that your tears can
never wash out. Love and hate will brand it there. You will be a young
man’s bride, but an old man’s darling.”

She paused, and a faint smile dimpled the young girl’s cheek.
Apparently the latter prediction did not seem to overwhelm her as the
witch expected.

“I have been an old man’s darling all my life,” she said gently. “I
assure you it is very pleasant.”

“Girl, I meant not the tie of consanguinity,” cried the sibyl, sharply.
“You do not understand. Ah! you will know soon enough; for I tell you,
girl, a cloud is gathering over your head; gathering swiftly to burst
over you in a tempest of fury. Fly! Fly! Go and cast yourself into
those raging Atlantic waves yonder, rather than breast the torrent of
sorrow about to break upon your life!”

Her voice had risen almost to a pitch of fury with the last words, and
her eyes flashed as with the light of inspiration. She cast a strange
look upon the trembling girl, and, dropping her hand abruptly, turned
away, hobbling out of sight with a rapidity that scarcely seemed
possible in one so stricken with age.

The young girl, who a moment ago had seemed so blithe and _debonair_,
sat still a few moments where the sibyl had left her, looking curiously
into the pink palm from which such dire prophecies had been read. She
looked like one dazed, and a slight pallor had momentarily usurped the
rose tint on her cheek.

“How earnestly the old creature talked,” she murmured, musingly, “as
if that horrid jargon of hers could be true. What is there in my hand
but a few lines that mean nothing? She saw that I did not believe in
her art, and predicted those dreadful things merely to punish me for my
doubt. Heigho! I have never had a sorrow in my life and never expect to
have one.”

She drew on her glove, and taking up her volume of poems, pursued her
way along the shore, looking a little more thoughtful than when she had
tripped that way a little while before singing in the lightness of her
heart.

After walking a short distance she paused, and selecting a shady seat,
sat down where she could watch the blue waves of the ocean rolling in,
crested with snowy foam, and the wild flight of the sea-birds wheeling
in the sunny air, and darting down now and then for some object of
prey their keen eyes discerned in the water. After watching these
objects for awhile she grew weary, and, opening her book, began to read
fitfully, turning the pages at random, as if only half her heart was in
the task.

She had been reading perhaps half an hour when the light dip of oars
in the water saluted her ears. She looked up quickly and saw a fairy
little skiff with one occupant coming around a curve of the shore
toward her. The skiff was very dainty, with trimly cushioned seats. It
was painted in shining blue and white, and bore around about the prow
in letters of blue and gold, the fanciful name, “Bonnibel.” The single
occupant, a young man singularly handsome and resolute-looking, called
out as he neared the shore:

“I have borrowed your skiff very unceremoniously, Miss Vere; but since
I have been detected in the theft, may I not persuade you to leave your
lonely eyrie there, and accompany me in my little pleasure-trip this
evening?”