The main character, Lord Arthur Savile, is introduced by Lady Windermere to Mr Septimus R. Podgers, a chiromantist, who reads his palm and tells him that it is his destiny to be a murderer. But why he become an assassin? Find out about Lady Alroy’s mysterious ways in ‘The Sphinx Without a Secret’ and discover how it pays to be nice to the poor in ‘The Model Millionaire’.

Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime

PART ONE

The Chiromantist

 

It was Lady Windermere’s last party before l 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.’

 

When Mr Podgers saw Lord Arthur’s hand, he went pale and said nothing. He was sweating and his fat fingers were cold and wet.

Lord Arthur saw Mr Podgers’ agitation and, for the first time in his young life, he was afraid. He wanted to run out of the room, but he also wanted to know what horrible things were waiting for him.

I’m waiting, Mr Podgers,’ he said.

‘We’re all waiting,’ cried Lady Windermere. The chiromantist did not reply.

Suddenly, Mr Podgers let go of Lord Arthur’s right hand and took the left one. He examined it so closely that his gold glasses almost touched the palm. For a moment, his face became a white mask of horror. He then recovered his self control and, pretending to smile, said, ‘It is the hand of a charming young man.’

‘Of course it is!’ answered Lady Windermere, ‘but will he be a charming husband? We want details, Mr Podgers. What’s going to happen to Lord Arthur?’

‘Well, in the next few months, Lord Arthur will go on a journey.’

‘Oh yes, his honeymoon, of course.’

‘And lose a distant relative,’ Mr Podgers added.

‘Well, I’m very disappointed,’ said Lady Windermere. ‘I have nothing to tell Sybil tomorrow. No one is interested in distant relatives these days. Come on. Let’s go and eat. If there’s anything left to eat, of course.’

The Duchess, her daughter, Flora, and Sir Thomas walked towards the dining room. At the same time, Lord Arthur Savile remained standing where he was. He felt that something unpleasant was coming into his life. He looked at his lovely sister who was walking past him; he did not notice that Lady Windermere was calling him to follow her. He thought of Sybil Merton, and the idea that anything could separate them brought tears to his eyes.

He could not move. He had lived a life of luxury and fortune. Now, for the first time in his life, he understood the terrible mystery of destiny, and the awful meaning of doom.

Was some terrible secret or crime written on his hand that he could not read? Was any escape possible? We are, he thought, like pieces on a chessboard, moved by an invisible power. This thought made him angry, but at the same time he felt that tragedy was waiting for him. Actors are lucky. They can choose their role — either in a tragedy or in a comedy. Real life is different. Most men and women have to play parts they are not qualified for. The world is a stage, but the actors are in the wrong roles.

Suddenly, Mr Podgers entered the room. When he saw Lord Arthur, his fat face turned a green-yellow colour. The two men looked at each other. For a moment there was silence. Mr Podgers did not want to talk and tried to avoid Lord Arthur. ‘Where is the Duchess’ glove? Ah, here it is! Good evening!’

‘Mr Podgers, I’m going to ask you a question and I want you to give me a simple answer.’

‘Another time, Lord Arthur. The Duchess is waiting,’ replied Mr Podgers.

Lord Arthur walked towards Mr Podgers and offered him his hand again. ‘Tell me what you saw there,’ he said. ‘Tell me the truth. I must know it. I’m not a child.’

Mr Podgers played nervously with his watch chain.

‘Why do you think I saw anything in your hand, Lord Arthur?’

‘I know you did. I insist you tell me. I’ll pay you one hundred pounds.’ Mr Podgers looked interested.

Guineas?’ said Mr Podgers in a low voice.

‘Certainly, I’ll send you a cheque tomorrow. What is your club?’

‘I have no club at present, Lord Arthur. This is my address.’

Mr Podgers gave Lord Arthur his card.

 

Mr Jertimus R.Podgers

PROFESSIONAL CHIROMANTIST 103a West Moon Street

‘My hours are from ten to four with reductions for families,’ Mr Podgers said.

‘Be quick,’ cried Lord Arthur. He looked very pale and showed him his hand.

‘It will take a little time, Lord Arthur, please sit down.’

Lord Arthur was now angry. ‘Be quick, sir,’ cried Lord Arthur a second time.

Mr Podgers smiled and pulled a small magnifying glass out of his pocket. He cleaned it carefully with his handkerchief.

‘I’m ready,’ he said.

Ten minutes later, Lord Arthur ran out of Lady Windermere’s house. His face was white with terror and his eyes full of sadness. He walked out into the square. It was lit by gas-lamps. The night was extremely cold, but his hands were hot and his face burned like fire. He did not stop walking. He seemed drunk. A policeman looked curiously at him; a beggar was frightened to see someone unhappier than he was. He stopped under a lamp, and looked at his hands. He thought he could already see blood on them.

He came to Regents Park. The dark trees seemed to fascinate him. He was tired and rested for a moment. ‘Murder! Murder!’ he repeated. He was frightened by the sound of his own voice. He felt a mad desire to stop someone passing by and tell him everything.

He then walked across Oxford Street and into other smaller streets. Two women with painted faces laughed at him. He could hear the sounds of physical violence. He felt pity. Were these children of sin and misery destined to an end similar to his?

Were they, like him, puppets in a monstrous show?

He understood that suffering was a comedy not a mystery. It had no meaning, no form, no harmony.

After some time he found himself in front of Marylebone Church. Lord Arthur walked quickly towards Portland Place. Sometimes he looked behind him, because he thought that someone was following him. On the corner of Rich Street two men were reading a notice. He was curious to see what they were reading. He saw the word ‘Murder’ printed in big black letters. It was a notice that offered a reward for any information about a man of medium height, between thirty and forty years of age, with a scar on his right cheek. The last time this man was seen, he was wearing a hat, a black coat and brown trousers. He read it again and again. ‘Will they catch him? How did he get the scar? Will people read my name on the walls of London, one day?’ he thought.

This idea horrified him. He walked on in the dark but did not know where he wanted to go. He remembered vaguely walking through poor, dirty streets. When day came he was in Piccadilly

 

Murder! That is what the chiromantist had seen on his hands. The wind blowing around the square seemed to tell him that even the night knew his secret.

 

Circus. He walked towards Belgrave Square and saw the great wagons pulled by horses bringing fruit to Covent Garden market. The men riding the big grey horses had pleasant, sunburnt faces and shouted happily to each other. He saw a fat boy wearing an old hat with flowers in it. He was laughing. There were lots of vegetables in the wagons. The green vegetables contrasted with the pink of the early morning sky. Lord Arthur was moved by the scene, but he could not say why. The beauty of the new day seemed to him sadly pathetic: the days start in beauty but end in a storm, he thought.

These men from the country saw a different London. A London free from the sin of night and the smoke of the day. He asked himself what these people knew about the city; its splendour, its shame, its joys, its hunger. London to them was probably just a market where they sold their fruit and their vegetables. They stayed only a few hours and then left. It gave him pleasure to watch them. He felt that they had lived with Nature and because of this had learned peace. He wanted their innocence.

When he reached Belgrave Square the sky was pale blue and the birds were beginning to sing.

Then Lord Arthur woke up it was twelve o’clock. The midday sun shone through the silk curtains of his room. He got up and looked out of the window. In the square below, children were playing and

the street was full of people on their way to the park. Life was wonderful; worries were far away.

His servant brought him a cup of chocolate. He drank it and then went into the bathroom. His bath was ready. He got into the marble bath and put his head under the water. He wanted to remove the memory of the previous night. After the bath he felt better. He got dressed.

After breakfast he sat down on the sofa. On the mantelpiece was a photograph of Sybil Merton at Lady Noel’s ball, where he had met her the first time. She was perfect. Her head was small but wonderfully shaped; her neck was delicate and thin. Her eyes expressed tender purity. She had grace. Lord Arthur looked at her and he felt pity for the woman he loved.

How could he now marry her? How could they be happy? Perhaps at any moment the terrible prophecy written in his hand would come true. The marriage must be postponed. He had no doubt. Although he loved her, he knew he could not marry her.

First, he had to commit the murder. After this, he could marry Sybil, free from shame forever. It must be done, and the sooner the better.

Lord Arthur had a strong sense of duty. He believed that principles came before pleasure. There was more than just passion in his love for Sybil; for him she was a symbol of everything that was good and noble. For a moment he was disgusted by the idea of what he had to do. But the feeling soon passed. His heart told him that what he had to do was not a sin but a sacrifice. He was convinced that he had no choice. Lord Arthur was not a dreamer. He was a practical person who preferred a life of action to a life of thought. He had a rare quality, common sense.

He now felt embarrassed by last night’s walk through the streets of London. He asked himself how he had possibly suffered so much about something that was so inevitable. However, one question disturbed him: who must he kill? He realised that murder needs a victim as well as a murderer. He was not a genius and so he had no enemies. He considered some people that he did not like, but he told himself that this was not the right occasion for simple revenge. No, his mission was important and solemn. He made a list of names of friends and relatives. After careful consideration he chose one name: Lady Clementina Beauchamp, a distant relative who lived in Curzon Street. Lord Arthur liked the old lady very much. He was rich and no one could suspect him of killing her for money. Yes, she was perfect. He must start immediately.

How could he kill her? He decided that poison was the best solution. He did not like physical violence. Yes, poison was the answer. It was safe, sure, and quiet. He went to his club. He knew nothing about the science of poison. He looked for some books on the subject in the club library. Finally, he found a book he could understand. There was a description of just the poison he wanted, aconitine. It was quick and painless. He went to a chemist’s and explained that the poison was for one of his dogs. ‘It has rabies, very dangerous,’ he explained. The chemist understood completely.

He bought a pretty little silver box and put the poison pill inside it.

Lord Arthur arrived at his aunt’s house. ‘I’ve brought you a cure for your indigestion, Aunt,’ he said.

‘How kind you are! I’ll take it immediately,’ his aunt replied.

‘No, Lady Clem!’ cried Lord Arthur, holding her hand. ‘You must take it when you have indigestion next. When will that be?’

‘Before the end of the month, unfortunately,’ his aunt told him.

Lord Arthur said goodbye to his aunt and left her house feeling happy.

That evening he told Sybil that he could not marry her. She must be patient and trust him.

‘Everything will be all right,’ he told her.

Early the next morning he left for Venice.

Lord Arthur met his brother, Lord Surbiton, m in Venice. The two young men spent two wonderful weeks there together. They went up and down the city’s canals in gondolas; they ate in fine restaurants; they talked and laughed while they sat in the Piazza. However, Lord Arthur was not happy. Every day he bought The Times expecting to see Lady Clementina’s name in the obituary columns. Every day he was disappointed. Had some accident happened to her? Sybil also worried him, but for a completely different reason. Her letters were full of love, but they were also very sad. He began to think that their separation was forever. One morning, at the hotel, the owner brought him some telegrams. One of them changed his mood. His plan had been successful, Lady Clementina had died.

He decided to return to London immediately. He sent a telegram to Sybil telling her to prepare for his return in a few days’ time. He received a letter from Lady Clementina’s solicitor. The old lady had died after dinner with friends. She had gone home early complaining of indigestion. The solicitor also informed Lord Arthur that Lady Clementina had left him her little house in Curzon Street. How kind of the old lady! For a moment he felt angry with Mr Podgers. It was after all his responsibility. Then he thought of Sybil. He had done his duty, and this gave him peace and comfort. When he arrived in London, he was a happy man.

When Lord Arthur saw Sybil, she asked him to promise never to leave her again. Their wedding day was fixed for 7th June. Life was bright and beautiful again, and Lord Arthur felt the same happiness he had felt before Mr Podgers’ prophecy.

One day, he and Sybil were tidying the old lady’s house in Curzon Street when Sybil found something.

‘What have you found, Sybil?’ said Lord Arthur happily.

‘This lovely little silver box, Arthur. Isn’t it beautiful? Can I have it?’

Lord Arthur was shocked. He had almost forgotten about what he had done. What a strange coincidence that Sybil was the first person to remind him!

‘Of course you can have it, Sybil. I gave it to poor Lady Clem.’

‘Can I have the sweet inside, too?’

‘Sweet, Sybil? What do you mean?’ replied Lord Arthur, now pale and worried.

‘Arthur, what’s the matter? You look so white!’

Lord Arthur quickly went to Sybil and took the box. Inside was the pill. Lady Clementina had died a natural death! He had not murdered anyone.

In despair, he threw the pill into the fire, and asked Sybil to postpone the wedding a second time.

Sybil Merton’s parents were very unhappy at the second postponement of the wedding. Sybil’s mother tried to persuade her daughter not to see Lord Arthur again. Sybil loved her mother but she trusted Lord Arthur completely and could never consider a life without him. Lord Arthur, too, was terribly disappointed. For several days he did not know what to do. Poison had not worked. Dynamite — something explosive — was the only solution.

So, he checked his list of names and decided to blow up his uncle, the Dean of Chichester. The Dean was a man of culture and had an impressive collection of clocks, ancient and modern. Lord Arthur thought that this hobby was an excellent opportunity for the murder. But where could he find an explosive clock?

Suddenly, he thought of his young Russian friend, Count Rouvaloff. They had met at one of Lady Windermere’s parties. The Russian was in England to study, but Lord Arthur knew that his friend had strong revolutionary ideas. Many people suspected that Rouvaloff was a secret agent. ‘He’s the right man,’ Lord Arthur thought.

One morning Lord Arthur visited Rouvaloff in Bloomsbury, where the Russian lived. ‘So you’ve become interested in politics?’ asked Count Rouvaloff. Lord Arthur replied that he had no interest in politics at all. ‘I want your help,’ said Lord Arthur. ‘I need some explosives.’

The Count looked at him with surprise. He then wrote an address on a piece of paper. ‘Scotland Yard would be very happy to have this address,’ Rouvaloff said.

‘They won’t have it,’ replied Lord Arthur, shaking his friend’s hand. He said goodbye. In the street, Lord Arthur looked at the piece of paper. His next destination was Soho.

Shortly after, he reached Soho and walked down Greek Street. He saw a small, green house. Lord Arthur knocked on the door. It was opened by a German called Winckelkopf.

‘Good morning,’ said Lord Arthur. ‘My name is Mr Robert Smith. Count Rouvaloff gave me your name. I need an explosive clock.’

‘Pleased to meet you, Lord Arthur,’ the man replied. ‘I saw you at one of Lady Windermere’s parties.’

Herr Winckelkopf offered Lord Arthur some excellent German wine. ‘Who do you want to kill?’ he asked.

‘The Dean of Chichester.’

‘I don’t,’ said Lord Arthur. ‘I know nothing about religion. The question is purely personal.’

The German showed Lord Arthur a small piece of dynamite and a pretty little clock.

‘Perfect!’ cried Lord Arthur. ‘How does it work?’

‘That is my secret,’ answered Winckelkopf. ‘You tell me when you want it to explode and I’ll set it for you.’

‘Friday at noon,’ said Lord Arthur. ‘The Dean is always at home at that time.’

Lord Arthur asked the price. The German accepted payment only for the dynamite, the clock and the transport to the Dean’s house. ‘And for your trouble?’ asked Lord Arthur.

‘I don’t work for money; I live for my art,’ the German said.

Lord Arthur waited for Friday in great excitement.

Finally the day arrived. At twelve o’clock, Lord Arthur waited in his club for news of an explosion, and the Dean of Chichester’s death. The news did not come.

Lord Arthur was very disappointed. The next day he visited Herr Winckelkopf. The German apologised. ‘Quality is such a problem these days,’ he said.

My dearest Aunt

Thank you for the material you sent me for my dressmaking. How kind you are!

What fun me have this week. Last Thursday some unknown person sent my father a pretty little clock. It arrived from London. The sender is probably someone who admires my father. We put the clock on the mantelpiece in the library. Can you believe that it makes little explosions? We think it is probably a very original type of alarm clock. My little brother, Reggie, has bought some gunpowder and plays with it all day. Daddy is a bit irritated by the noise!

Do you think Arthur would like one for a wedding present?

Daddy sends his love and so do my , James and Reggie. Please give my regards to my cousin Arthur.

Your affectionate niece,

Jane

Lord Arthur was desperate. He ran to his room, tears in his eyes. He had tried to commit murder, but he had failed both times. It was so difficult to be good, he thought. Perhaps he should not marry Sybil. He felt that he was not able to control his destiny.

That evening he went to his club. His brother was there with some friends, but Lord Arthur found their conversation boring. Later he left the club and walked down to the Thames. He sat by the river for hours. In the moonlight the city slowly became quiet.

At two o’clock he walked along the river. Everything was dark except for the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral. In the darkness he saw the figure of a man. He was looking down into the river. Lord Arthur recognised the figure. It was Mr Podgers, the chiromantist!

Lord Arthur stopped behind the fat little man. He had a brilliant idea. He took Mr Podgers’ legs, and threw him into the River Thames below. Lord Arthur looked down into the dark water. He could only see the chiromantist’s hat floating down the river. Mr Podgers had gone. Lord Arthur was happy and immediately thought of Sybil.

‘Have you lost anything, sir?’ asked a voice behind him. It was a policeman.

‘Nothing important. Thank you, sergeant,’ Lord Arthur replied, smiling.

He walked home.

Days of hope and fear followed. Was Mr Podgers dead? Was he alive? He wanted to know. The answer came. In his club, Lord Arthur saw this newspaper headline:

 

They had found Mr Podgers’ body. Suicide was the obvious cause of death.

Lord Arthur ran out of his club. He went immediately to Sybil’s house. When she saw him, she knew he had good news. ‘Sybil,’ cried Lord Arthur, ‘let’s get married tomorrow!’

The wedding took place three weeks later. The Dean of Chichester read the service. Everyone agreed that Lord Arthur and Sybil were not only a beautiful couple but a happy one, too. Lord Arthur had no regrets and Sybil was a perfect partner. They loved each other greatly. Reality did not kill romance and so they always felt young.

Some years later Lady Windermere visited them. They now had two beautiful children, a boy and a girl. In the garden, Lady Windermere and Sybil were talking. ‘Do you remember Mr Podgers?’ Lady Windermere asked. ‘What a horrible man he was!

He wanted to borrow money from me. He was an impostor, too.

I never believed in chiromancy after him.’

‘Never criticise chiromancy here, Lady Windermere,’ Sybil replied. ‘Arthur believes in it totally.’

‘I don’t believe it!’ said Lady Windermere.

‘Here he is now. You can ask him.’ Sybil smiled at her husband. ‘Lord Arthur, tell me why you believe in chiromancy,’ demanded Lady Windermere.

‘Because it gave me all the happiness of my life,’ said Lord Arthur. ‘It gave me Sybil,’ he added.

‘What nonsense!’ cried Lady Windermere. ‘I’ve never heard such nonsense in all my life.’

 

The Sphinx Without a Secret

One afternoon I was sitting outside a cafe in Paris. I watched human life pass by, the rich and the poor, the elegant and the shabby. Suddenly someone called my name. I turned round and saw Lord Murchison. We had been friends at Oxford University nearly ten years before. We had not met since then. I had liked him greatly.

He was good-looking, good fun and honourable. He was also honest and frank. But now he looked anxious and confused. I tried to understand why. I supposed that the reason was probably a woman. I asked him if he was married.

‘I don’t understand women enough,’ he answered.

‘My dear Gerald,’ I said, ‘you have to love women, not understand them.’

‘I can’t love if I can’t trust,’ he replied.

‘Gerald, I believe you have a mystery in your life, and you must tell me about it,’ I said.

‘Let’s go for a drive,’ Gerald answered, ‘there are too many people here.’

We went to find a carriage. ‘No, not a yellow carriage,’ Lord Murchison said, ‘any other colour.’

We found a dark green one and went to a quiet restaurant.

‘Tell me your mystery,’ I said.

He took a small leather case out of his pocket and gave it to me. I opened it. Inside there was a photograph of a woman. With her long hair and fur coat, she looked like a clairvoyant.

‘Is that a face I can trust?’ he asked.

I examined the photograph carefully. The face had a secret, but was this secret good or bad? Her beauty seemed to be the product of many mysteries.

I wanted to know all about her. After dinner Lord Murchison told me this story.

‘One evening,’ he said, ‘I was walking down Bond Street. It was five o’clock and the traffic was terrible. For some reason a little yellow carriage attracted my attention. I saw inside the face I showed you earlier. It fascinated me immediately. I thought of it all that night, and all the next day. I looked for the yellow carriage, but I couldn’t find it. I began to think that it was a dream. A week later I was invited to dinner by a friend. Dinner was at eight o’clock, but at half past eight we were still waiting to start. A guest was late. Finally, the servant announced the arrival of Lady Alroy. It was the woman I’d looked for the week before! Luckily, she sat next to me at dinner. I told her that I’d seen her in Bond Street. “Please, don’t talk so loudly,” she said. After this terrible start, she spoke very little. When she did speak, her voice was low. I thought she was afraid of someone listening to her. I fell madly in love with her. I was excited by her air of mystery. After dinner, I asked her if I could see her again. She hesitated and looked around. In a low voice she replied, “Yes; tomorrow at a quarter to five.” I asked my host for information about this mysterious lady. All I was told was that Lady Alroy was a widow and lived alone in a beautiful house in Park Lane.

‘The next day I arrived at her home exactly on time, but her butler told me she’d just gone out. I went to my club unhappy and confused. I decided to write her a letter. Could I see her another afternoon? I had no answer for several days. At last I received a short note: “Dear… I will be at home… . Please do not write to me here… .” The note ended with this instruction: “Please do not write to me here again; I will explain when I see you.” I saw her that Sunday. She was charming. However, when I was leaving she repeated her instruction to me and told me to send any letters to a local library. “There are reasons why I can’t receive letters in my own house.”

‘For the next few months I saw her regularly. Her air of mystery never left her. I tried to understand her secret but could find no answer. Finally I decided to ask her to marry me. I was tired of my secret visits and the letters I sent her. I wrote her a letter; I wanted to see her the following Monday at six o’clock. She answered yes. I was incredibly happy. I was deeply in love with her. Now I know it was because of her mystery or maybe not. No, that isn’t true. It was the woman I loved.’

‘Did you discover her secret?’ I asked.

‘Yes, I think so, but you must decide for yourself,’ he answered.

On the Monday of our appointment I was walking to her house. To arrive more quickly I walked through a poor district. Suddenly I saw her in front of me. She stopped outside a house, took out a key, opened the door, and went in. “Here is the mystery,” I said to myself. I looked around. Her handkerchief was in front of the door, on the doorstep. I picked it up and put it in my pocket. What should I do now? I decided to return to her house later that evening. At six o’clock I visited her. She was as beautiful as ever. “I’ve been at home all day,” she said. I pulled out her handkerchief and gave it to her. “You dropped this outside a house today, Lady Alroy,” I said calmly. She looked at me in terror. I asked her what she was doing there. “You have no right to ask me,” she replied. I told her that I wanted to marry her. “That gives me a right,’ I said. She began to cry. “You must tell me,” I demanded. I told her that she went to the house to meet someone. She denied it, but I continued saying terrible things to her. Finally I left her house. She wrote me a letter, but I sent it back without reading it. I went to Norway. I had to go away. One month later I read that she’d died of pneumonia. I loved that woman so much!’

‘Did you go back to the house in that street?’ I asked.

‘Yes. One day I went back to the street. I had to know. There I met the owner of the house. She was a respectable woman. She told me she let rooms and one room was free. “I haven’t seen the lady who rents them for three months,” she told me. “Is this the woman?” I asked her, showing her the photograph I have shown you. She told me it was. I told her that the lady was dead. “What did she do here? Did she meet anyone?” I asked. The woman told me she met no one. “She sat and read books, sir. Sometimes she had tea.”

‘Do you believe the woman was telling the truth?’

‘Yes, I do,’ I answered.

‘But why did Lady Alroy go there?’

‘My dear Gerald,’ I answered, ‘Lady Alroy was a woman who loved mystery. She rented the room for the pleasure of going there secretly. She imagined she was a heroine in a story. But she herself was simply a sphinx without a secret.’

He looked at the photograph again. ‘I’m not sure,’ he said.

 

The Model Millionaire

 

There is no point in being charming if you are not rich as well. Romance is a privilege for the rich. The poor should be practical. It is better to have a regular salary than be fascinating. These are the great truths of modern life. Hughie Erskine never understood them. Poor Hughie! He did not have a particularly clever mind. He never said anything brilliant or cruel. But he was extremely good-looking, with brown hair and grey eyes. He was as popular with men as with women. Unfortunately, he was unable to make money. His father had left him a sword and some books. He had a small income from an aunt. His experiences of the business world had been unsuccessful. As a result, he was a pleasant young man with an attractive face and no profession.

To complicate things more, he was in love. Laura Merton was the daughter of a retired army colonel. She loved Hughie greatly. Together they made an attractive couple, but a couple without money. Laura’s father liked Hughie, but he did not want them to marry because Hughie had no money. ‘Come to me, my boy, when you have got ten thousand pounds,’ the colonel told him.

One morning Hughie visited a friend, Alan Trevor. Trevor was a painter. Many people today are. But Trevor was also an artist, and artists are rare. He had red hair and a beard. He liked Hughie a lot. When Hughie came into the artist’s studio, Trevor was finishing a life-size picture of a beggar. The beggar himself was standing in the corner of the studio.

‘What an amazing model,’ Hughie said quietly.

‘Amazing?’ Trevor shouted, ‘he’s unique! I’m very lucky to have him.’

‘He looks so miserable,’ said Hughie, ‘but I suppose his face is his fortune.’

‘Certainly,’ replied Trevor, ‘you don’t want a beggar to look happy, do you?’

‘How much do you give him for a sitting?’ Hughie asked.

‘A shilling for an hour.’

‘And how much money do you earn for your pictures, Alan?’

‘Oh, for this picture I’ll earn two thousand!’

‘Pounds?’

‘Guineas,’ Trevor answered. ‘Painters, poets and doctors always get guineas!’

‘I think your model should receive a percentage. He works as hard as you do,’ Hughie said.

‘Nonsense, nonsense!’ Trevor replied. ‘Now, sit down and be quiet. I’ll be back in a moment.’

The artist left the studio. The old beggar sat down for a moment. He looked so poor and unhappy. Hughie felt sorry for the man and decided to give him the only coin he had in his pocket. ‘Poor man,’ he thought, ‘he needs it more than I do.’ Hughie walked across the studio and gave the beggar the coin.

The old man was surprised and smiled at Hughie. ‘Thank you, sir,’ he said, ‘thank you.’

Trevor returned. Hughie said goodbye and decided to spend the afternoon with Laura. She told him sweetly that he was stupid to give his money away. He had so little of it.

 That evening he went to his club. Alan Trevor was there.

‘Did you finish your painting?’ Hughie asked.

‘Yes, it’s finished,’ answered Trevor. ‘My goodness, you made an incredible impression on my beggar. He’s devoted to you. I told him all about you, who you are, where you live, your financial situation, your prospects, everything!’

‘Alan,’ cried Hughie, ‘he’ll probably be outside my house. But you’re joking of course. Poor old man! He’s so miserable. I have lots of old clothes at home I could give him.’

‘But he looks splendid in his rags,’said Trevor. ‘I only paint him when he’s dressed like a poor man.’

‘You painters have no heart,’ Hughie replied.

‘An artist’s heart is his head,’ said Trevor. ‘Our job is to show the world as it is, not to reform it. Now, how is Laura? The beggar is very interested in her.’

‘You didn’t talk to him about Laura?’ Hughie asked.

‘Of course. He knows all about the colonel, the lovely Laura, and the ten thousand pounds.’

‘You told that old beggar all my business?’ Hughie was now angry.

‘My dear boy,’ said Trevor, smiling, ‘that old beggar, as you call him, is one of the richest men in Europe. He could buy all of London tomorrow. He has a house in every capital city and only eats from gold plates.’

‘What are you talking about?’ asked Hughie, who could not believe what his friend was saying.

‘The old man you saw in my studio this morning,’ Trevor explained, ‘was Baron Hausberg. He’s a great friend of mine; he buys all my pictures.’

‘And I gave Baron Hausberg a coin?’ cried Hughie. ‘Why didn’t you tell me, Alan? I made such a fool of myself.’ Hughie felt very embarrassed.

‘Well, I certainly didn’t think that you gave money to beggars,’ Trevor laughed.

‘He must think I’m so stupid!’ Hughie said. ‘Please tell no one about what has happened today.’

Hughie left the club feeling very unhappy. Alan Trevor stayed, still laughing.

At breakfast the next morning Hughie’s servant told him a visitor was waiting for him. ‘Monsieur Gustave Naudin, sir,’ the servant said, ‘representing Baron Hausberg.’

‘He probably wants me to apologise for what I did yesterday,’ Hughie thought.

The servant opened the door for the visitor. He was an old gentleman with gold glasses and grey hair. He had a French accent. ‘Do I have the honour of speaking to Monsieur Erskine?’ he asked. ‘I have come from Baron Hausberg.’

Hughie interrupted the man. ‘Sir, please offer the Baron my sincerest apologies for what happened yesterday.’

‘The Baron,’ said the old gentleman with a smile, ‘has told me to give you this envelope.’

On the envelope was written, ‘A wedding present to Hugh Erskine and Laura Merton, from an old beggar,’ and inside was a cheque for ten thousand pounds.

When they got married Alan Trevor was the best man, and the Baron made a speech at the wedding.

‘Millionaire models are rare,’ remarked Alan, ‘but model millionaires are even rarer!’