It is almost time for dinner in the Condomine household and the new maid, Edith, has brought the pre-dinner cocktails through to the living room. She is inexperienced and nervous, and is made more so by Ruth Condomine’s brisk commands. When Ruth’s husband, Charles Condomine, comes down for drinks, the couple discuss the evening ahead. Charles has invited Madame Arcati, an eccentric local medium, to perform a seance in the house as research material for his next book. They have also invited Doctor Bradman and his wife and agree that they must not hurt Madame Arcati’s feelings by laughing at her. Ruth begins to question Charles about his first wife, Elvira, who died. Ruth believes she would have liked Elvira and does not understand Charles’ apathy over her death. Ruth questions how long it would take Charles to get over her if she were to die suddenly too. They are interrupted by the doorbell, heralding the arrival of the Bradmans. Mrs. Bradman is very excited and the group discuss Madame Arcati’s credentials as a psychic.
Madame Arcati arrives on her bicycle. She is eccentric and striking, enthusiastically accepting a couple of cocktails. When the guests marvel at her continuing to cycle up and down the hills every day, she claims that it stimulates her and gives her energy. Madame Arcati is currently writing a children’s book and enthusiastically describes her previous writing experience. Edith enters to tell the party that dinner is ready and Madame Arcati questions whether there is red meat being served as it sometimes has an odd effect on her. However she decides to risk it.
After dinner, the ladies are having coffee in the living room. Ruth and Mrs. Bradman are questioning Madame Arcati about her practices. The psychic explains that she always has a child as a control and has had the same child working for her on the other side for years. Her mother was also a medium and Madame Arcati has practiced since she was a small child. As the men enter, Madame