“I want you to meet my palmist,” said Lady Windermere.
“What is a palmist?” asked Lord Arthur Savile.
“A palmist is a man who reads people’s hands,” said Lady Windermere. “A palmist can tell you your future by looking at your hand. It is important for a young man to know what his future will be.”
“Oh, you mean that he’s an ordinary fortune-teller,” said Lord Arthur Savile.
“No, no,” said Lady Windermere quickly, “he is not a fortune-teller. A palmist is much cleverer than a fortuneteller. Also palmists are more fashionable than fortunetellers. Everyone in London wants to see a palmist. My palmist reads my hand every week.”
“Does he have a foreign name?” asked Lord Arthur.
“No, he is English,” Lady Windermere answered. “His name is Mr Podgers.”
“Very well, please introduce me to Mr Podgers,” said Lord Arthur. “But I do not want to know my future. I am happy with my life at the present time.”
They walked through a crowd of people. The room was full of ladies and gentlemen who were wearing fashionable and expensive clothes. They were all Lady Windermere’s guests. This was Lady Windermere’s Spring Reception. Lady Windermere’s receptions were the most famous and fashionable parties in London. She had a reception every year and invited all the most famous and fashionable people in the capital.
There were several lords at the reception. Six government ministers were talking to a German Princess. The ministers smiled at Lady Windermere as she passed.
There were diplomats from many countries. There were famous artists and musicians and doctors. There was a fashionable scientist who talked about politics and economics. There was a Russian anarchist who talked about bombs. And there was Mr Podgers – the palmist.
“There he is,” said Lady Windermere. “There is Mr Podgers. He is talking to the Duchess of Paisley.”
Lord Arthur Savile looked at Mr Podgers. Mr Podgers was looking at the Duchess of Paisley’s hand. Mr Podgers was a short, fat man with an unpleasant smile. His eyes were small and bright and he wore gold spectacles He held the Duchess’s right hand and looked at it carefully.
“Your hand is beautiful, my lady,” he said. He smiled unpleasantly and bowed towards her.
Lord Arthur Savile looked at the Duchess’s hand. It was small and ugly.
The Duchess waved her left hand and smiled at Mr Podgers.
“Your Ladyship is clever at business,” said Mr Podgers.
“When I married Lord Paisley I was a young woman,” said the Duchess. “Lord Paisley had eleven castles and no houses. I made my husband sell the castles. Now I have twelve houses and no castles.”
Everyone laughed at this. Mr Podgers laughed most of all. Then everyone wanted Mr Podgers to look at their hands. But Lord Arthur Savile waited and watched.
Sir Thomas, the famous explorer, was next. He held out his hand and Mr Podger smiled.
“You have had many adventures,” said Mr Podgers. “You have been on four long sea voyages. Twice your ship has been sunk. You are planning another voyage – to the Antarctic. You had an illness when you were seventeen years old. You became rich when you were thirty. You do not like cats.”
“Amazing!” said Sir Thomas. “Every word is true. It’s quite amazing.”
“He reads the newspapers as well as hands,” Lady Windermere said to Lord Arthur. “It is not difficult to tell the fortunes of famous people if you read the newspapers.”
“Then, you do not believe in fortune-telling,” said Lord Arthur. “Why did you invite him to your reception?”
“I find him amusing,” Lady Windermere answered. “He is fashionable and amuses the guests.”
Six, seven, eight people held out their hands to Mr Podgers. He read their hands and told them their future. Everyone was surprised and amazed. They all laughed and talked loudly.
“Mr Podgers is wonderful.”
Mr Podgers read the hands of all the people around him. He smiled and promised good fortune. Only the Russian ambassador did not hold out his hand. Lord Arthur Savile waited and watched.
“Now, Lord Arthur, it is your turn,” said Lady Windermere. “I want to know your future.”
“Why?” asked Lord Arthur.
“Because your fiancee Sybil is coming to see me tomorrow. You are getting married next month. I want to know that you will be happy. I will tell Sybil the good news.”
Lady Windermere spoke to Mr Podgers. “Mr Podgers, here is Lord Arthur Savile. He is one of my favourite young men. He is getting married next month. Please tell him his future. Please tell him something good.”
Mr Podgers smiled at Lady Windermere. “I will be pleased to do so, my lady.”
Mr Podgers held Lord Arthur’s right hand. The palmist’s face turned pale. He said nothing. He looked closely at Lord Arthur’s hand for more than a minute.
Lord Arthur suddenly felt afraid. “I am waiting, Mr Podgers,” he said.
“We are all waiting,” said Lady Windermere. Mr Podgers took hold of Lord Arthur’s left hand. He looked at it very closely. His gold spectacles almost touched Lord Arthur’s hand. His face showed that he saw something horrible. But he looked up quickly and smiled unpleasantly.
“It is the hand of a very pleasant and charming young man,” said Mr Podgers.
“Of course it is,” said Lady Windermere angrily. “But will he he a charming young husband? That’s what I want to know.”
“All charming young men are charming husbands,” said Mr Podgers.
“I know that,” said Lady Windermere loudly. “Tell me his future. What will happen in Lord Arthur’s life?”
“There is little to tell,” said Mr Podgers. “He will go on a journey …”
“Of course he will go on a journey,” said Lady Windermere. “He is getting married next month. He and his wife will go on their honeymoon. Do you mean that? Do you mean his honeymoon?”
“I do not know,” said Mr Podgers. “Also, one of his relatives will die soon.”
“Who?” demanded Lady Windermere. “Not his sister?”
“No, no, not a member of his close family. A distant relative,” said Mr Podgers. “A distant cousin, perhaps.” Then he was silent. He said no more.
Lady Windermere was angry. This was a bad end to a wonderful evening.
“Come. It is time for supper,” Lady Windermere called to her guests. “The food is ready.”
She walked out of the room. Everyone followed her to the supper table, except for Lord Arthur and Mr Podgers.
Lord Arthur looked at Mr Podgers angrily. Mr Podgers was afraid.
“Tell me what you saw in my hand,” said Lord Arthur. “I am not a child. I must know the truth. Tell me now. I will pay you a hundred pounds.”
Mr Podgers’ eyes shone brightly. A hundred pounds was a lot of money.
“Very well,” said Mr Podgers. “Here is my address card.
Mr Septimus R. Podgers
103a West Moon Street, London
Please send a hundred pounds to my office tomorrow. Now I will tell you what I saw, but you will not like it.”
Lord Arthur Savile took the card. He listened while Mr Podgers told his fortune.
Ten minutes later, Lord Arthur Savile left Lady Windermere’s house. He did not say goodbye to her. He was worried, upset – and afraid.
He walked away from the large house. He walked away from the fashionable street. All the houses in the street belonged to rich men.
He walked across Oxford Street and along the unfashionable streets in Soho. This was a poor part of London. A beggar asked for money as Lord Arthur passed. Two women with thick make-up on their faces laughed at him. He saw a fight in a dark street. He heard a scream from a dark, dirty building. Then a policeman stopped him.
“It’s not safe for a gentleman to be walking along these streets at night,” said the policeman.
Lord Arthur thanked him and walked on. Lord Arthur saw another beggar. He put a coin in the old man’s hand. This man was poor. Lord Arthur was rich. Was it this man’s fortune to he poor? Was it Lord Arthur’s fortune to he rich? Was a man’s future written in his hand? Could Mr Podgers read that future?
Mr Podgers had read the future in Lord Arthur’s hand. Could Lord Arthur escape his fate? No. Lord Arthur did not believe he could change the future. But perhaps he could make it happen in a different way?
Now Lord Arthur had walked to Marylebone. He did not know this part of London. He turned back towards Oxford Street. The streets were lit by gas lamps and fog came up from the river.
At the corner of Rich Street he saw two men. They were reading a police notice on the wall. Lord Arthur went up to the notice and read it. He saw the word MURDER in large black letters. There had been a murder in Soho. The notice said the police would pay money for information. There was a drawing of the murderer on the notice.
Perhaps a police notice will show a drawing of me one day, thought Lord Arthur. It is my fate to be a murderer. Mr Podgers says that I will kill someone, soon.
Lord Arthur walked home to his house in Belgrave Square. He went to bed immediately and did not wake up until twelve o’clock the next day.
He thought about his fiancee, Sybil. Her photograph was beside his bed. They were going to be married in a month and he loved her.
He also thought about what Mr Podgers had told him. “You will kill someone,” Mr Podgers had said.
“But who will I kill?” Lord Arthur had asked. Mr Podgers had said nothing.
Why did he believe the palmist? It was strange. He had felt afraid when Mr Podgers spoke. Lord Arthur believed that the palmist’s words were true. “I will kill someone,” he said. It was simple. But who? Where? When? The questions went round and round in his head.
Lord Arthur Savile decided two things. The first was that he could not marry Sybil – not yet. The second was this – “I will make my own future. I will kill someone,” he said. Perhaps the decisions were strange, but Lord Arthur had decided what to do.
Mr Podgers had said something else. “One of your relatives will die soon … a distant relative, perhaps a distant cousin.” Lord Arthur did not have many distant relatives.
There was only his second cousin, Lady Clementina Beauchamp. She was an old lady who lived in Curzon Street. Lord Arthur decided to kill her. “She is old and will not live long,” he said. “I will kill her. Then I will marry Sybil.”
He went to a large library and looked at the books on medicine. A book called Toxicology helped him. It was a book about poisons. There was a strong poison called aconitine which worked quickly and painlessly. Lord Arthur wrote down the name of the poison then went to a pharmacy.
Lord Arthur asked to see the pharmacist. “I have a large dog,” Lord Arthur said the pharmacist. “It has bitten several people. I must kill the dog, but I do not want to shoot it. Can you help me? I need a quick and painless poison. My doctor told me there is a poison called aconitine.”
“Yes, there is a poison called aconitine,” said the pharmacist, “but I cannot give it to you. You must bring a signed paper from your doctor. I need a certificate from a doctor before I can give you the poison.”
“My doctor is Sir Matthew Reid and I am Lord Arthur Savile. Do I have to get a certificate? I am leaving the country very soon and I am in a hurry.”
The pharmacist had heard the name, Sir Matthew Reid. Sir Matthew Reid was a famous doctor. “Well, my lord, if you promise you will only use the poison to kill this dog …”
“Yes, of course,” said Lord Arthur, “I promise.”
“Very well,” said the pharmacist. “I will make a pill of poison for your dog.”
The pharmacist made the poison pill. It looked like a small, round sweet. Half an hour later, Lord Arthur bought a small box of sweets in a shop in Piccadilly. He threw the sweets away and put the poison pill in the box. Then he went to visit Lady Clementina Beauchamp.
Arthur! I’m so happy to see you,” said Lady Clementina. “How is Sybil? Is everything ready for your marriage?”
“Sybil is very well, thank you,” said Lord Arthur. “She has gone to see Lady Windermere today. I am going to see Sybil later.”
“You are very kind to visit me,” said Lady Clementina. “I am old and ill. I’m sure you young people think I am boring. My only visitor is the doctor.”
“I know you are not well,” said Lord Arthur. “I have brought you some medicine.”
He gave the sweet box to Lady Clementina who looked inside. She took out the pill and looked at it.
“It looks like a sweet,” Lady Clementina said. “Are you sure it is medicine? Shall I take it now?”
“It is medicine … yes … but do not take it now,” said Lord Arthur. “It is a new medicine from America. It is a very good medicine. Take it before you go to bed. It will help you to sleep.”
“You are very kind,” said Lady Clementina. “I will try to remember to take it. I am old and I forget many things. But I will not forget to come to your wedding.”
Lord Arthur said goodbye to Lady Clementina. Then he went to see Sybil at her father’s house in Park Lane. He wanted to change the date of their marriage. He wanted to delay their marriage, but he did not want to hurt Sybil.
Lord Arthur asked Sybil to wait. “We will be married … but not yet. Please wait a little longer. Everything will be all right. Believe me.”
Sybil was very unhappy. She did not understand. Why did Arthur want to delay their marriage? Lord Arthur sat and talked with her until late in the evening. Then he took the midnight train to Venice in Italy.
In Venice, Lord Arthur met his brother, Lord Surbiton. They were together for two weeks but Lord Arthur did not enjoy his visit to Venice. He was worried and restless. He read the newspapers from England every day. He looked for news of Lady Clementina Beauchamp.
One morning a message arrived from London. Lady Clementina was dead. She had said she wanted Lord Arthur to have her house. So Lord Arthur Savile now owned Lady Clementina’s house.
Lord Arthur returned to London at once. First he went to see Sybil and make plans for their wedding. Then he and Sybil went to Lady Clementina’s house.
Lord Arthur and Sybil looked around Lady Clementina’s house. They opened drawers and cupboards. In one drawer Sybil found a small sweet box.
“Look at this lovely little box,” Sybil said to Arthur. “It has an old sweet inside it.”
Lord Arthur looked. His face turned pale. It was the box he had given to Lady Clementina. The poison pill was still inside.
“I will throw it away,” said Lord Arthur. He took the pill and threw it on the fire.
“But don’t burn the box,” said Sybil. “Please don’t throw the box away. Arthur, you look very pale. Is anything wrong?”
Lord Arthur knew he had not killed Lady Clementina. He had decided to kill someone before his marriage. Now he had to delay his marriage again.
Lord Arthur Savile delayed his marriage for the second time. Sybil was very upset. Her father was angry. Lord Arthur Savile was very unhappy.
Lord Arthur had to find someone to murder. He had no more distant relatives. So he decided to murder a close member of his family, his uncle, the Dean of Chichester. His uncle was an important man in the Church.
The Dean was interested in clocks. He had a large collection of clocks. So, Lord Arthur decided to send him a bomb inside a clock. But where could he find a bomb?
He remembered Lady Windermere’s reception. He had met a young Russian called Count Rouvaloff. The Count had talked about anarchism and bombs. There was often news of anarchists in the newspapers. Anarchists killed important people with bombs. Lord Arthur knew that the Count lived near the British Museum. He went to visit him.
“You want a bomb?” said the Count. “I did not know you were interested in politics.”
“I have some private business. I’m not interested in politics,” said Lord Arthur.
Count Rouvaloff looked at him in surprise. He thought that only anarchists used bombs. But he saw Lord Arthur was serious. He believed that Lord Arthur did want a bomb. He wrote an address on a piece of paper.
“This is a secret address,” said Count Rouvaloff. “Tell no one. Read this address then burn the paper.”
“I shall burn it, do not worry,” said Lord Arthur.
He shook the Russian’s hand then left. The paper gave an address in Soho. Soho was a poor part of London where many foreign people lived. Lord Arthur went to Greek Street. He knocked on the door of an old building.
The man who opened the door spoke German. Lord Arthur showed him the paper from Count Rouvaloff.
“Come in,” said the man.
The building was an empty shop. Lord Arthur waited for a few minutes. Then another man came into the room.
“My name is Herr Winckelkopf,” said the man. “How can I help you?”
“My name is Smith,” said Lord Arthur. “Count Rouvaloff sent me. I need a bomb.”
“What kind of a bomb?” asked Herr Winckelkopf.
“A bomb in a clock,” said Lord Arthur.
“Ah, I sent a bomb in a clock to the governor of Odessa,” said Herr Winckelkopf. “Who do you want to blow up?”
“I want to blow up the Dean of Chichester.”
“A churchman? So, you are interested in religion.”
“No, it is private business.”
“I have a beautiful clock,” said Herr Winckelkopf.
He showed a clock to Lord Arthur. There were two wooden figures on the clock – a woman and a dragon. “The woman is Liberty,” continued Herr Winckelkopf. “The dragon is Dictatorship. Liberty is stronger than Dictatorship.”
“Yes, I understand,” said Lord Arthur. “But I am not interested in politics. Can you make the bomb immediately?”
“I have an important job to do for friends in Moscow,” said Herr Winckelkopf. “But I can make your bomb in a few days. When do you want it to explode?”
“On Friday, at midday.”
Lord Arthur wrote an address on a piece of paper. “Please send it to the Dean of Chichester. Here is the address.”
“Friday, at midday,” repeated Herr Winckelkopf. “The Dean of Chichester.”
“And how much money do I owe you?” asked Lord Arthur.
“I do not work for money,” said Herr Winckelkopf. “I’m an anarchist. I’m working for Liberty. Please pay me five pounds.”
Lord Arthur paid him five pounds and left the house in Greek Street. He waited at home until the weekend. He waited for news.
The weekend came. Nothing happened. He waited another week. Still nothing happened. Then he received a letter from the Dean of Chichester.
I am writing to ask you about London fashions. Last week I received a clock, but I do not know who sent it. It is a clever toy. It has an alarm inside like a small hammer. When the alarm strikes twelve, smoke comes out of the clock. It is very clever. Does everyone in London have a clock like this?
Lord Arthur had not killed his uncle. The bomb had not worked. He was very worried. “What shall I do?” he asked himself. “Shall I leave the country? Shall I tell Sybil I will not marry her?”
That evening he went out to dinner with his brother, Lord Surbiton. His brother’s friends were young and foolish. They made a lot of noise in the restaurant. Lord Arthur became bored with their conversation. He left the restaurant at eleven o’clock and walked beside the river.
A fog was coming off the river. The street lamps along the road shone like silver moons. There were few people on the streets. Lord Arthur walked from Blackfriars towards Westminster. He heard Big Ben – the huge clock at Westminster – strike twelve o’clock. Lord Arthur stood by the wall and looked down at the river. The fog was thick and he could not see the river easily. The light of the street lamps made the river black and silver. The water was moving quickly. The river made Lord Arthur think of dark and terrible things.
He hated Mr Podgers the palmist. He had been happy before he knew his fate. “I know I will kill someone,” Lord Arthur said to himself. “It is my fate. Why did Mr Podgers tell me? I was happy. I did not want to know my future.”
He looked away from the river and saw something moving in front of him. He walked on. There was something strange in front of him. A man was leaning over the wall. Was he going to jump into the river?
Lord Arthur walked forward quickly. Then he stopped.
A street lamp was shining on the man’s face. It was Mr Podgers the palmist! Lord Arthur had a clever idea.
Lord Arthur ran forward quickly and quietly. He took hold of Mr Podgers by the legs and pushed him over the wall. There was a cry and a splash, then silence.
Lord Arthur stood by the wall and looked down. He could not see Mr Podgers.
“Have you dropped something, sir?” asked a voice behind him suddenly.
He turned round and saw a policeman with a lamp.
“It was nothing important, sergeant,” Lord Arthur answered, smiling.
Lord Arthur suddenly felt very happy. Now he had no more worries.
A day later Lord Arthur read a report in The Times newspaper.
SUICIDE OF A PALMIST
The body of Mr Septimus R. Podgers was found in the River Thames yesterday. Mr Podgers was a famous palmist.
Police questioned Mr Podgers’ friends. They said that Mr Podgers had been working very hard. Mr Podgers was writing a book about reading palms. His friends thought he had become ill because he worked so hard.
The police believe that Me Podgers killed himself by jumping into the River Thames.
Lord Arthur ran out of the house and went to Sybil’s house in Park Lane. Sybil was looking out of the window. When she saw Arthur in the street, she ran downstairs to meet him.
“Sybil, let us get married tomorrow,” Arthur shouted. “No … not tomorrow … Let’s get married today!”
“You foolish boy!” Sybil was laughing and crying at the same time. She and Arthur were both very happy.
After their wedding, Arthur and Sybil visited Lady Windermere.
“Are you happy?” asked Lady Windermere.
“We are both very happy,” said Arthur. “And we hope that you are too.”
“I have no time to be happy,” said Lady Windermere. “I am always looking for new people to invite to my receptions.”
“I read in the newspaper that Mr Podgers, your palmist, is dead,” said Arthur.
“Oh, Mr Podgers …” replied Lady Windermere. There is a new fashion now. It is called telepathy. I have a telepathist who reads peoples’ minds. I became tired of Mr Podgers. He could not read the future. He never told me anything useful. I did not believe him.”
“I believed him,” said Arthur. “Everything he told me was true. He has made me very happy!”
“How has he made you happy?” asked Lady Windermere in surprise.
Arthur looked into his wife’s eyes and said, “He has helped me to marry Sybil.”
“What nonsense!” cried Lady Windermere. “I never heard such nonsense.”