فصل 01

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فصل 01

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PART ONE

The Chiromantist

It was Lady Windermere’s last party before Easter and her house was even more full of people than usual. There were important politicians, beautiful women, princes and princesses from various parts of Europe. There was an incredible variety of people. It was certainly one of Lady Windermere’s best parties.

Lady Windermere was talking to the Duchess of Paisley. She looked beautiful with her pale skin, large blue eyes and golden hair. Her hair was like a frame and her face was the picture. She looked like a saint but had also the fascination of a sinner.

When she was young, she had a reputation for her unconventional behaviour. She had been married three times. Now she was forty and without children and her passion for pleasure kept her young.

She looked round the full room and in her high voice asked, ‘Where is my chiromantist?’

The Duchess of Paisley replied surprised, ‘Your what, Gladys?’

‘My chiromantist, Duchess. I can’t live without him.’

The Duchess was not sure what a chiromantist was and hoped it was not the same as a chiropodist.

‘He comes to see my hand twice a week and always has interesting things to say about it,’ said Lady Windermere.

The Duchess was sure that the man was a sort of chiropodist and was shocked.

‘I must introduce you to him,’ said Lady Windermere.

‘Introduce him!’ cried the Duchess. ‘Do you want to say that he’s here?’ She looked worried and prepared to leave.

‘Of course he’s here. I invite him to all my parties. He reads my hand.’

The Duchess finally realised what a chiromantist was and felt happier. ‘Oh, I see,’ she said. ‘I suppose he tells fortunes?’

‘And misfortunes,’ answered Lady Windermere. ‘Next year, I’m in great danger both on land and sea. So, I’m going to live in a balloon. He told me he saw it in my little finger. Or was it on my palm? I can’t remember.’

The Duchess told her that it was dangerous to interfere with the future.

‘My dear Duchess, I think the reading of your hands is necessary once a month. In that way, you’ll know the things you shouldn’t do. Of course, you do the things anyway, but it’s fun to know.’ Lady Windermere stopped for a moment and said, ‘Now, where is Mr Podgers? I have to find him.’

‘I’ll look for him, Lady Windermere,’ said a tall, handsome young man who was standing near them.

‘Thank you so much, Lord Arthur; but you don’t know him.’

‘Tell me, Lady Windermere, what he’s like, and I’ll bring him to you immediately.’

Lady Windermere began her description. ‘Well, he doesn’t look like a chiromantist. He isn’t mysterious and he doesn’t look romantic. In fact, he’s a little, fat man with no hair and gold glasses. He looks a bit like a country doctor and a bit like a country lawyer. I’m really sorry if my description doesn’t help you very much. Unfortunately, people are so irritating. Their appearance is often so different from what they really do. Ah, here is Mr Podgers! Now, Mr Podgers, I want you to read the Duchess of Paisley’s hand.’

She turned to the Duchess.

‘Duchess, you must take off your glove. No, not the left hand, the other one.’

The Duchess said it was not right. ‘Nothing interesting ever is,’ replied Lady Windermere.

She introduced the Duchess to Mr Podgers.

The chiromantist looked at the hand; it was little and fat and had short, square fingers. ‘You’ll live to a great age, Duchess, and be extremely happy,’ said Mr Podgers. ‘Ambition - very moderate, the line of the intellect is not exaggerated, the line of the heart-‘

‘Now, be indiscreet, Mr Podgers,’ cried Lady Windermere.

The fortune teller agreed and bowed. ‘I see a great affection and a strong sense of duty.’ Mr Podgers stopped for a moment. ‘Please continue,’ said the Duchess, who was now happy at the things she was hearing.

‘Not spending very much money is also one of your virtues.’

Lady Windermere found this very amusing and laughed loudly.

‘Economy is very important,’ replied the Duchess. ‘When I married my husband, the Duke of Paisley, he had eleven castles and no house suitable to live in.’

‘And now he has twelve houses, and not a single castle,’ cried Lady Windermere.

‘Well, my dear,’ said the Duchess, ‘I like-‘

‘Comfort,’ said Mr Podgers, ‘and modern conveniences, hot water, things like that. You’re quite right. Comfort is the only thing our civilisation can give us.’

Lady Windermere was very pleased with Mr Podgers. ‘You have described the Duchess’s character very well and now you must tell Lady Flora’s.’

A tall girl with red hair came forward. She had long, thin hands and thin fingers.

‘Ah, a pianist! I see,’ said Mr Podgers, ‘an excellent pianist, but perhaps not a musician. Very reserved, very honest, someone who loves animals.’

‘Quite true!’ replied the Duchess. ‘My daughter has twenty-four dogs in the country.’

Mr Podgers then read the hand of Sir Thomas, a friendly looking old gentleman. Again, he surprised his listeners with the accuracy of what he said. ‘Extraordinary!’ said Sir Thomas. ‘You must read my wife’s hand.’

‘Your second wife’s. I’ll be very pleased,’ said Mr Podgers.

Sir Thomas’s wife, however, refused. She did not want to hear about her past or her future. Nor did the Russian Ambassador, who refused even to remove his gloves. In fact, many people seemed afraid of the strange little man in the gold glasses. The chiromantist told Lady Fermor that she did not like music, but she liked musicians. Many guests thought that the things Mr Podgers said were probably too dangerous for an occasion like this.

Lord Arthur Savile was watching Mr Podgers with interest. He wanted the man to read his hand, but was too timid to ask directly. He crossed the room to where Lady Windermere was sitting and said, ‘Lady Windermere, do you think Mr Podgers will read my hand?’

‘Of course,’ said Lady Windermere, ‘that’s why he’s here. But be careful, Lord Arthur. I’m having lunch with Sybil tomorrow and if Mr Podgers discovers terrible things about you, I’ll tell her everything.’

Lord Arthur smiled, and shook his head. ‘I’m afraid not,’ he said. ‘Sybil knows me as well as I know her.’

Lady Windermere called Mr Podgers who, at that moment, was reading a lady’s hand. ‘Mr Podgers, Lord Arthur Savile would like you to read his hand. Don’t tell him that he has promised to marry one of the most beautiful girls in London, Sybil Merton. That was in the newspapers!’

An interested audience watched Mr Podgers, who took Lord Arthur’s hand. ‘Now, Mr Podgers,’ said Lady Windermere, ‘make sure you tell us something nice. Lord Arthur is one of my special favourites.’

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