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 the "fortune-teller" is trying to foresee something that is really quite unforeseeable ...

Sophie had been keeping her eye on the mailbox while she read about Democritus. But just in case, she decided nevertheless to take a stroll down to the garden gate.

When she opened the front door she saw a small envelope on the front step. And sure enough--it was addressed to Sophie Amundsen.

So he had tricked her! Today of all days, when she had kept such careful watch on the mailbox, the mystery man had sneaked up to the house from a different angle and just laid the letter on the step before making off into the woods again. Drat!

How did he know that Sophie was watching the mailbox today? Had he seen her at the window? Anyway, she was glad to find the letter before her mother arrived.

Sophie went back to her room and opened the letter. The white envelope was a bit wet around the edges, and had two little holes in it. Why was that? It had not rained for several days.

The little note inside read:

Do you believe in Fate?

Is sickness the punishment of the gods?

What forces govern the course of history?

Did she believe in Fate? She was not at all sure. But she knew a lot of people who did. There was a girl in her class who read horoscopes in magazines. But if they believed in astrology, they probably believed in Fate as well, because astrologers claimed that the position of the stars influenced people's lives on Earth.

If you believed that a black cat crossing your path meant bad luck--well, then you believed in Fate, didn't you? As she thought about it, several more examples of fatalism occurred to her. Why do so many people knock on wood, for example? And why was Friday the thirteenth an unlucky day? Sophie had heard that lots of hotels had no room number 13. It had to be because so many people were superstitious.

"Superstitious." What a strange word. If you believed in Christianity or Islam, it was called "faith." But if you believed in astrology or Friday the thirteenth it was superstition! Who had the right to call other people's belief superstition?

Sophie was sure of one thing, though. Democritus had not believed in fate. He was a materialist. He had only believed in atoms and empty space.

Sophie tried to think about the other questions on the note.

"Is sickness the punishment of the gods?" Surely nobody believed that nowadays? But it occurred to her that many people thought it helped to pray for recovery, so at any rate they must believe that God had some power over people's health.

The last question was harder to answer. Sophie had never given much thought to what governed the course of history. It had to be people, surely? If it was God or Fate, people had no free will.

The idea of free will made Sophie think of something else. Why should she put up with this mysterious philosopher playing cat and mouse with her? Why couldn't she write a letter to him. He (or she) would quite probably put another big envelope in the mailbox during the night or sometime tomorrow morning. She would see to it that there was a letter ready for this person.

Sophie began right away. It was difficult to write to someone she had never seen. She didn't even know if it was a man or a woman. Or if he or she was old or young. For that matter, the mysterious philosopher could even be someone she already knew. She wrote:

Most respected philosopher, Your generous correspondence course in philosophy is greatly appreciated by us here. But it bothers us not to know who you are. We therefore request you to use your full name. In return we would like to extend our hospitality should you care to corne and have coffee with us, but preferably when my mother is at home. She is at work from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day from Monday to Friday. I am at school during these days, but I am always home by 2:15 p.m., except on Thursdays. I am also very good at making coffee.

Thanking you in advance, I remainYour attentive student,Sophie Amundsen (aged 14)

At the bottom of the page she wrote RSVP.

Sophie felt that the letter had turned out much too formal. But it was hard to know which words to choose when writing to a person without a face. She put the letter in a pink envelope and addressed it "To the philosopher."

The problem was where to put it so her mother didn't find it. She would have to wait for her to get home before putting it in the mailbox. And she would also have to remember to look in the mailbox early the next morning before the newspaper arrived. If no new letter came for her this evening or during the night, she would have to take the pink envelope in again.

Why did it all have to be so complicated?

That evening Sophie went up to her room early, even though it was Friday. Her mother tried to tempt her with pizza and a thriller on TV, but Sophie said she was tired and wanted to go to bed and read. While her mother sat watching TV, she sneaked out to the mailbox with her letter.

Her mother was clearly worried. She had started speaking to Sophie in a different tone since the business with the white rabbit and the top hat. Sophie hated to be a worry to her mother, but she just had to go upstairs and keep an eye on the mailbox.

When her mother came up at about eleven o'clock, Sophie was sitting at the window staring down the road.

"You're not still sitting there staring at the mailbox!" she said.

"I can look at whatever I like."

"I really think you must be in love, Sophie. But if he is going to bring you another letter, he certainly won't come in the middle of the night."

Yuck! Sophie loathed all that soppy talk about love. But she had to let her mother go on believing it was true.

"Is he the one who told you about the rabbit and the top hat?" her mother asked.

Sophie nodded.

"He--he doesn't do drugs, does he?"

Now Sophie felt really sorry for her mother. She couldn't go on letting her worry this way, although it was completely nutty of her to think that just because someone had a slightly bizarre idea he must be on something. Grownups really were idiotic sometimes.

She said, "Mom, I promise you once and for all I'll never do any of that stuff... and he doesn't either. But he is very interested in philosophy."

"Is he older than you?"

Sophie shook her head.

"The same age?"

Sophie nodded.

"Well, I'm sure he's very sweet, darling. Now I think you should try and get some sleep."

But Sophie stayed sitting by the window for what seemed like hours. At last she could hardly keep her eyes open. It was one o'clock.

She was just about to go to bed when she suddenly caught sight of a shadow emerging from the woods.

Although it was almost dark outside, she could make out the shape of a human figure. It was a man, and Sophie thought he looked quite old. He was certainly not her age! He was wearing a beret of some kind.

She could have sworn he glanced up at the house, but Sophie's light was not on. The man went straight up to the mailbox and dropped a big envelope into it. As he let go of it, he caught sight of Sophie's letter. He reached down into the mailbox and fished it up. The next minute he was walking swiftly back toward the woods. He hurried down the woodland path and was gone.

Sophie felt her heart pounding. Her first instinct was to run after him in her pajamas but she didn't dare run after a stranger in the middle of the night. But she did have to go out and fetch the envelope.

After a minute or two she crept down the stairs, opened the front door quietly, and ran to the mailbox. In a flash she was back in her room with the envelope in her hand. She sat on her bed, holding her breath. After a few minutes had passed and all was still quiet in the house, she opened the letter ............
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