New Arabian NightsRobert Louis Stevenson
Transcribed from the 1920 Chatto & Windus edition by David Price, [email protected]
NEW ARABIAN NIGHTS
BY ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON
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LONDON CHATTO & WINDUS 1920
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_Printed at_ THE BALLANTYNE PRESS SPOTTISWOODE, BALLANTYNE & CO. LTD. _Colchester_, _London & Eton_, _England_
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_Robert Allan Mowbray Stevenson_
IN GRATEFUL REMEMBRANCE OF THEIR YOUTH AND THEIR ALREADY OLD AFFECTION
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THE SUICIDE CLUB: PAGE STORY OF THE YOUNG MAN WITH THE CREAM 1 TARTS STORY OF THE PHYSICIAN AND THE SARATOGA 35 TRUNK THE ADVENTURE OF THE HANSOM CABS 65THE RAJAH’S DIAMOND: STORY OF THE BANDBOX 88 STORY OF THE YOUNG MAN IN HOLY ORDERS 116 STORY OF THE HOUSE WITH THE GREEN BLINDS 133 THE ADVENTURE OF PRINCE FLORIZEL AND A 168 DETECTIVETHE PAVILION ON THE LINKS: CHAP. I. TELLS HOW I CAMPED IN GRADEN 171 SEA-WOOD, AND BEHELD A LIGHT IN THE PAVILION II. TELLS OF THE NOCTURNAL LANDING 184 FROM THE YACHT III. TELLS HOW I BECAME ACQUAINTED 191 WITH MY WIFE IV. TELLS IN WHAT A STARTLING 200 MANNER I LEARNED THAT I WAS NOT ALONE IN GRADEN SEA-WOOD V. TELLS OF AN INTERVIEW BETWEEN 209 NORTHMOUR, CLARA, AND MYSELF VI. TELLS OF MY INTRODUCTION TO 215 THE TALL MAN VII. TELLS HOW A WORD WAS CRIED 221 THROUGH THE PAVILION WINDOW VIII. TELLS THE LAST OF THE TALL MAN 228 IX. TELLS HOW NORTHMOUR CARRIED 235 OUT HIS THREATA LODGING FOR THE NIGHT 242THE SIRE DE MALÊTROIT’S DOOR 267PROVIDENCE AND THE GUITAR 292
THE SUICIDE CLUB
STORY OF THE YOUNG MAN WITH THE CREAM TARTS
DURING his residence in London, the accomplished Prince Florizel ofBohemia gained the affection of all classes by the seduction of hismanner and by a well-considered generosity. He was a remarkable man evenby what was known of him; and that was but a small part of what heactually did. Although of a placid temper in ordinary circumstances, andaccustomed to take the world with as much philosophy as any ploughman,the Prince of Bohemia was not without a taste for ways of life moreadventurous and eccentric than that to which he was destined by hisbirth. Now and then, when he fell into a low humour, when there was nolaughable play to witness in any of the London theatres, and when theseason of the year was unsuitable to those field sports in which heexcelled all competitors, he would summon his confidant and Master of theHorse, Colonel Geraldine, and bid him prepare himself against an eveningramble. The Master of the Horse was a young officer of a brave and eventemerarious disposition. He greeted the news with delight, and hastenedto make ready. Long practice and a varied acquaintance of life had givenhim a singular facility in disguise; he could adapt not only his face andbearing, but his voice and almost his thoughts, to those of any rank,character, or nation; and in this way he diverted attention from thePrince, and sometimes gained admission for the pair into strangesocieties. The civil authorities were never taken into the secret ofthese adventures; the imperturbable courage of the one and the readyinvention and chivalrous devotion of the other had brought them through ascore of dangerous passes; and they grew in confidence as time went on.
One evening in March they were driven by a sharp fall of sleet into anOyster Bar in the immediate neighbourhood of Leicester Square. ColonelGeraldine was dressed and painted to represent a person connected withthe Press in reduced circumstances; while the Prince had, as usual,travestied his appearance by the addition of false whiskers and a pair oflarge adhesive eyebrows. These lent him a shaggy and weather-beaten air,which, for one of his urbanity, formed the most impenetrable disguise.Thus equipped, the commander and his satellite sipped their brandy andsoda in security.
The bar was full of guests, male and female; but though more than one ofthese offered to fall into talk with our adventurers, none of thempromised to grow interesting upon a nearer acquaintance. There wasnothing present but the lees of London and the commonplace ofdisrespectability; and the Prince had already fallen to yawning, and wasbeginning to grow weary of the whole excursion, when the swing doors werepushed violently open, and a young man, followed by a couple ofcommissionaires, entered the bar. Each of the commissionaires carried alarge dish of cream tarts under a cover, which they at once removed; andthe young man made the round of the company, and pressed theseconfections upon every one’s acceptance with an exaggerated courtesy.Sometimes his offer was laughingly accepted; sometimes it was firmly, oreven harshly, rejected. In these latter cases the new-comer always atethe tart himself, with some more or less humorous commentary.
At last he accosted Prince Florizel.
“Sir,” said he, with a profound obeisance, proffering the tart at thesame time between his thumb and forefinger, “will you so far honour anentire stranger? I can answer for the quality of the pastry, havingeaten two dozen and three of them myself since five o’clock.”
“I am in the habit,” replied the Prince, “of looking not so much to thenature of a gift as to the spirit in which it is offered.”
“The spirit, sir,” returned the young man, with another bow, “is one ofmockery.”
“Mockery?” repeated Florizel. “And whom do you propose to mock?”
“I am not here to expound my philosophy,” replied the other, “but todistribute these cream tarts. If I mention that I heartily includemyself in the ridicule of the transaction, I hope you will considerhonour satisfied and condescend. If not, you will constrain me to eat mytwenty-eighth, and I own to being weary of the exercise.”
“You touch me,” said the Prince, “and I have all the will in the world torescue you from this dilemma, but upon one condition. If my friend and Ieat your cakes—for which we have neither of us any natural inclination—weshall expect you to join us at supper by way of recompense.”
The young man seemed to reflect.
“I have still several dozen upon hand,” he said at last; “and that willmake it necessary for me to visit several more bars before my greataffair is concluded. This will take some time; and if you are hungry—”
The Prince interrupted him with a polite gesture.
“My friend and I will accompany you,” he said; “for we have already adeep interest in your very agreeable mode of passing an evening. And nowthat the preliminaries of peace are settled, allow me to sign the treatyfor both.”
And the Prince swallowed the tart with the best grace imaginable.
“It is delicious,” said he.
perceive you are a connoisseur,” replied the young man.
Colonel Geraldine likewise did honour to the pastry; and every one inthat bar having now either accepted or refused his delicacies, the youngman with the cream tarts led the way to another and similarestablishment. The two commissionaires, who seemed to have grownaccustomed to their absurd employment, followed immediately after; andthe Prince and the Colonel brought up the rear, arm in arm, and smilingto each other as they went. In this order the company visited two othertaverns, where scenes were enacted of a like nature to that alreadydescribed—some refusing, some accepting, the favours of this vagabondhospitality, and the young man himself eating each rejected tart.
On leaving the third saloon the young man counted his store. There werebut nine remaining, three in one tray and six in the other.
“Gentlemen,” said he, addressing himself to his two new followers, “I amunwilling to delay your supper. I am positively sure you must be hungry.I feel that I owe you a special consideration. And on this great day forme, when I am closing a career of folly by my most conspicuously sillyaction, I wish to behave handsomely to all who give me countenance.Gentlemen, you shall wait no longer. Although my constitution isshattered by previous excesses, at the risk of my life I liquidate thesuspensory condition.”
With these words he crushed the nine remaining tarts into his mouth, andswallowed them at a single movement each. Then, turning to thecommissionaires, he gave them a couple of sovereigns.
“I have to thank you,” said be, “for your extraordinary patience.”
And he dismissed them with a bow apiece. For some seconds he stoodlooking at the purse from which he had just paid his assistants, then,with a laugh, he tossed it into the middle of the street, and signifiedhis readiness for supper.
In a small French restaurant in Soho, which had enjoyed an exaggeratedreputation for some little while, but had already begun to be forgotten,and in a private room up two pair of stairs, the three companions made avery elegant supper, and drank three or four bottles of champagne,talking the while upon indifferent subjects. The young man was fluentand gay, but he laughed louder than was natural in a person of politebreeding; his hands trembled violently, and his voice took sudden andsurprising inflections, which seemed to be independent of his will. Thedessert had been cleared away, and all three had lighted their cigars,when the Prince addressed him in these words:—
“You will, I am sure, pardon my curiosity. What I have seen of you hasgreatly pleased but even more puzzled me. And though I should be loth toseem indiscreet, I must tell you that my friend and I are persons verywell worthy to be entrusted with a secret. We have many of our own,which we are continually revealing to improper ears. And if, as Isuppose, your story is a silly one, you need have no delicacy with us,who are two of the silliest men in England. My name is Godall,Theophilus Godall; my friend is Major Alfred Hammersmith—or at least,such is the name by which he chooses to be known. We pass our livesentirely in the search for extravagant adventures; and there is noextravagance with which we are not capable of sympathy.”
“I like you, Mr. Godall,” returned the young man; “you inspire me with anatural confidence; and I have not the slightest objection to your friendthe Major, whom I take to be a nobleman in masquerade. At least, I amsure he is no soldier.”
The Colonel smiled at this compliment to the perfection of his art; andthe young man went on in a more animated manner.
“There is every reason why I should not tell you my story. Perhaps thatis just the reason why I am going to do so. At least, you seem so wellprepared to hear a tale of silliness that I cannot find it in my heart todisappoint you. My name, in spite of your example, I shall keep tomyself. My age is not essential to the narrative. I am descended frommy ancestors by ordinary generation, and from them I inherited the veryeligible human tenement which I still occupy and a fortune of threehundred pounds a year. I suppose they also handed on to me a hare-brainhumour, which it has been my chief delight to indulge. I received a goodeducation. I can play the violin nearly well enough to earn money in theorchestra of a penny gaff, but not quite. The same remark applies to theflute and the French horn. I learned enough of whist to lose about ahundred a year at that scientific game. My acquaintance with French wassufficient to enable me to squander money in Paris with almost the samefacility as in London. In short, I am a person full of manlyaccomplishments. I have had every sort of adventure, including a duelabout nothing. Only two months ago I met a young lady exactly suited tomy taste in mind and body; I found my heart melt; I saw that I had comeupon my fate at last, and was in the way to fall in love. But when Icame to reckon up what remained to me of my capital, I found it amountedto something less than four hundred pounds! I ask you fairly—can a manwho respects himself fall in love on four hundred pounds? I concluded,certainly not; left the presence of my charmer, and slightly acceleratingmy usual rate of expenditure, came this morning to my last eighty pounds.This I divided into two equal parts; forty I reserved for a particularpurpose; the remaining forty I was to dissipate before the night. I havepassed a very entertaining day, and played many farces besides that ofthe cream tarts which procured me the advantage of your acquaintance; forI was determined, as I told you, to bring a foolish career to a stillmore foolish conclusion; and when you saw me throw my purse into thestreet, the forty pounds were at an end. Now you know me as well as Iknow myself: a fool, but consistent in his folly; and, as I will ask youto believe, neither a whimperer nor a coward.”
From the whole tone of the young man’s statement it was plain that heharboured very bitter and contemptuous thoughts about himself. Hisauditors were led to imagine that his love affair was nearer his heartthan he admitted, and that he had a design on his own life. The farce ofthe cream tarts began to have very much the air of a tragedy in disguise.
“Why, is this not odd,” broke out Geraldine, giving a look to PrinceFlorizel, “that we three fellows should have met by the merest accidentin so large a wilderness as London, and should be so nearly in the samecondition?”
“How?” cried the young man. “Are you, too, ruined? Is this supper afolly like my cream tarts? Has the devil brought three of his owntogether for a last carouse?”
“The devil, depend upon it, can sometimes do a very gentlemanly thing,”returned Prince Florizel; “and I am so much touched by this coincidence,that, although we are not entirely in the same case, I am going to put anend to the disparity. Let your heroic treatment of the last cream tartsbe my example.”
So saying, the Prince drew out his purse and took from it a small bundleof bank-notes.
“You see, I was a week or so behind you, but I mean to catch you up andcome neck and neck into the winning-post,” he continued. “This,” layingone of the notes upon the table, “will suffice for the bill. As for therest—”
He tossed them into the fire, and they went up the chimney in a singleblaze.
The young man tried to catch his arm, but as the table was between themhis interference came too late.
“Unhappy man,” he cried, “you should not have burned them all! Youshould have kept forty pounds.”
“Forty pounds!” repeated the Prince. “Why, in heaven’s name, fortypounds?”
“Why not eighty?” cried the Colonel; “for to my certain knowledge theremust have been a hundred in the bundle.”
“It was only forty pounds he needed,” said the young man gloomily. “Butwithout them there is no admission. The rule is strict. Forty poundsfor each. Accursed life, where a man cannot even die without money!”
The Prince and the Colonel exchanged glances. “Explain yourself,” saidthe latter. “I have still a pocket-book tolerably well lined, and I neednot say how readily I should share my wealth with Godall. But I mustknow to what end: you must certainly tell us what you mean.”
The young man seemed to awaken; he looked uneasily from one to the other,and his face flushed deeply.
“You are not fo
oling me?” he asked. “You are indeed ruined men like me?”
“Indeed, I am for my part,” replied the Colonel.
“And for mine,” said the Prince, “I have given you proof. Who but aruined man would throw his notes into the fire? The action speaks foritself.”
“A ruined man—yes,” returned the other suspiciously, “or else amillionaire.”
“Enough, sir,” said the Prince; “I have said so, and I am not accustomedto have my word remain in doubt.”
“Ruined?” said the young man. “Are you ruined, like me? Are you, aftera life of indulgence, come to such a pass that you can only indulgeyourself in one thing more? Are you”—he kept lowering his voice as hewent on—“are you going to give yourselves that last indulgence? Are yougoing to avoid the consequences of your folly by the one infallible andeasy path? Are you going to give the slip to the sheriff’s officers ofconscience by the one open door?”
Suddenly he broke off and attempted to laugh.
“Here is your health!” he cried, emptying his glass, “and good night toyou, my merry ruined men.”
Colonel Geraldine caught him by the arm as he was about to rise.
“You lack confidence in us,” he said, “and you are wrong. To all yourquestions I make answer in the affirmative. But I am not so timid, andcan speak the Queen’s English plainly. We too, like yourself, have hadenough of life, and are determined to die. Sooner or later, alone ortogether, we meant to seek out death and beard him where he lies ready.Since we have met you, and your case is more pressing, let it beto-night—and at once—and, if you will, all three together. Such apenniless trio,” he cried, “should go arm in arm into the halls of Pluto,and give each other some countenance among the shades!”
Geraldine had hit exactly on the manners and intonations that became thepart he was playing. The Prince himself was disturbed, and looked overat his confidant with a shade of doubt. As for the young man, the flushcame back darkly into his cheek, and his eyes threw out a spark of light.
“You are the men for me!” he cried, with an almost terrible gaiety.“Shake hands upon the bargain!” (his hand was cold and wet). “You littleknow in what a company you will begin the march! You little know in whata happy moment for yourselves you partook of my cream tarts! I am only aunit, but I am a unit in an army. I know Death’s private door. I am oneof his familiars, and can show you into eternity without ceremony and yetwithout scandal.”
They called upon him eagerly to explain his meaning.
“Can you muster eighty pounds between you?” he demanded.
Geraldine ostentatiously consulted his pocket-book, and replied in theaffirmative.
“Fortunate beings!” cried the young man. “Forty pounds is the entrymoney of the Suicide Club.”
“The Suicide Club,” said the Prince, “why, what the devil is that?”
“Listen,” said the young man; “this is the age of conveniences, and Ihave to tell you of the last perfection of the sort. We have affairs indifferent places; and hence railways were invented. Railways separatedus infallibly from our friends; and so telegraphs were made that we mightcommunicate speedier at great distances. Even in hotels we have lifts tospare us a climb of some hundred steps. Now, we know that life is only astage to play the fool upon as long as the part amuses us. There was onemore convenience lacking to modern comfort; a decent, easy way to quitthat stage; the back stairs to liberty; or, as I said this moment,Death’s private door. This, my two fellow-rebels, is supplied by theSuicide Club. Do not suppose that you and I are alone, or evenexceptional in the highly reasonable desire that we profess. A largenumber of our fellowmen, who have grown heartily sick of the performancein which they are expected to join daily and all their lives long, areonly kept from flight by one or two considerations. Some have familieswho would be shocked, or even blamed, if the matter became public; othershave a weakness at heart and recoil from the circumstances of death.That is, to some extent, my own experience. I cannot put a pistol to myhead and draw the trigger; for something stronger than myself withholdsthe act; and although I loathe life, I have not strength enough in mybody to take hold of death and be done with it. For such as I, and forall who desire to be out of the coil without posthumous scandal, theSuicide Club has been inaugurated. How this has been managed, what isits history, or what may be its ramifications in other lands, I am myselfuninformed; and what I know of its constitution, I am not at liberty tocommunicate to you. To this extent, however, I am at your service. Ifyou are truly tired of life, I will introduce you to-night to a meeting;and if not to-night, at least some time within the week, you will beeasily relieved of your existences. It is now (consulting his watch)eleven; by half-past, at latest, we must leave this place; so that youhave half-an-hour before you to consider my proposal. It is more seriousthan a cream tart,” he added, with a smile; “and I suspect morepalatable.”
“More serious, certainly,” returned Colonel Geraldine; “and as it is somuch more so, will you allow me five minutes’ speech in private with myfriend, Mr. Godall?”
“It is only fair,” answered the young man. “If you will permit, I willretire.”
“You will be very obliging,” said the Colonel.
As soon as the two were alone—“What,” said Prince Florizel, “is the useof this confabulation, Geraldine? I see you are flurried, whereas mymind is very tranquilly made up. I will see the end of this.”
“Your Highness,” said the Colonel, turning pale; “let me ask you toconsider the importance of your life, not only to your friends, but tothe public interest. ‘If not to-night,’ said this madman; but supposingthat to-night some irreparable disaster were to overtake your Highness’sperson, what, let me ask you, what would be my despair, and what theconcern and disaster of a great nation?”
“I will see the end of this,” repeated the Prince in his most deliberatetones; “and have the kindness, Colonel Geraldine, to remember and respectyour word of honour as a gentleman. Under no circumstances, recollect,nor without my special authority, are you to betray the incognito underwhich I choose to go abroad. These were my commands, which I nowreiterate. And now,” he added, “let me ask you to call for the bill.”
Colonel Geraldine bowed in submission; but he had a very white face as hesummoned the young man of the cream tarts, and issued his directions tothe waiter. The Prince preserved his undisturbed demeanour, anddescribed a Palais Royal farce to the young suicide with great humour andgusto. He avoided the Colonel’s appealing looks without ostentation, andselected another cheroot with more than usual care. Indeed, he was nowthe only man of the party who kept any command over his nerves.
The bill was discharged, the Prince giving the whole change of the noteto the astonished waiter; and the three drove off in a four-wheeler.They were not long upon the way before the cab stopped at the entrance toa rather dark court. Here all descended.
After Geraldine had paid the fare, the young man turned, and addressedPrince Florizel as follows:—
“It is still time, Mr. Godall, to make good your escape into thraldom.And for you too, Major Hammersmith. Reflect well before you take anotherstep; and if your hearts say no—here are the cross-roads.”
“Lead on, sir,” said the Prince. “I am not the man to go back from athing once said.”
“Your coolness does me good,” replied their guide. “I have never seenany one so unmoved at this conjuncture; and yet you are not the firstwhom I have escorted to this door. More than one of my friends haspreceded me, where I knew I must shortly follow. But this is of nointerest to you. Wait me here for only a few moments; I shall return assoon as I have arranged the preliminaries of your introduction.”
And with that the young man, waving his hand to his companions, turnedinto the court, entered a doorway and disappeared.
“Of all our follies,” said Colonel Geraldine in a low voice, “this is thewildest and most dangerous.”
“I perfectly believe so,” ret
urned the Prince.
“We have still,” pursued the Colonel, “a moment to ourselves. Let mebeseech your Highness to profit by the opportunity and retire. Theconsequences of this step are so dark, and may be so grave, that I feelmyself justified in pushing a little farther than usual the liberty whichyour Highness is so condescending as to allow me in private.”
“Am I to understand that Colonel Geraldine is afraid?” asked hisHighness, taking his cheroot from his lips, and looking keenly into theother’s face.
“My fear is certainly not personal,” replied the other proudly; “of thatyour Highness may rest well assured.”
“I had supposed as much,” returned the Prince, with undisturbed goodhumour; “but I was unwilling to remind you of the difference in ourstations. No more—no more,” he added, seeing Geraldine about toapologise, “you stand excused.”
And he smoked placidly, leaning against a railing, until the young manreturned.
“Well,” he asked, “has our reception been arranged?”
“Follow me,” was the reply. “The President will see you in the cabinet.And let me warn you to be frank in your answers. I have stood yourguarantee; but the club requires a searching inquiry before admission;for the indiscretion of a single member would lead to the dispersion ofthe whole society for ever.”
The Prince and Geraldine put their heads together for a moment. “Bear meout in this,” said the one; and “bear me out in that,” said the other;and by boldly taking up the characters of men with whom both wereacquainted, they had come to an agreement in a twinkling, and were readyto follow their guide into the President’s cabinet.
There were no formidable obstacles to pass. The outer door stood open;the door of the cabinet was ajar; and there, in a small but very highapartment, the young man left them once more.
“He will be here immediately,” he said, with a nod, as he disappeared.
Voices were audible in the cabinet through the folding doors which formedone end; and now and then the noise of a champagne cork, followed by aburst of laughter, intervened among the sounds of conversation. A singletall window looked out upon the river and the embankment; and by thedisposition of the lights they judged themselves not far from CharingCross station. The furniture was scanty, and the coverings worn to thethread; and there was nothing movable except a hand-bell in the centre ofa round table, and the hats and coats of a considerable party hung roundthe wall on pegs.
“What sort of a den is this?” said Geraldine.
“That is what I have come to see,” replied the Prince. “If they keeplive devils on the premises, the thing may grow amusing.”
Just then the folding door was opened no more than was necessary for thepassage of a human body; and there entered at the same moment a louderbuzz of talk, and the redoubtable President of the Suicide Club. ThePresident was a man of fifty or upwards; large and rambling in his gait,with shaggy side whiskers, a bald top to his head, and a veiled grey eye,which now and then emitted a twinkle. His mouth, which embraced a largecigar, he kept continually screwing round and round and from side toside, as he looked sagaciously and coldly at the strangers. He wasdressed in light tweeds, with his neck very open in a striped shirtcollar; and carried a minute book under one arm.
“Good evening,” said he, after he had closed the door behind him. “I amtold you wish to speak with me.”
“We have a desire, sir, to join the Suicide Club,” replied the Colonel.
The President rolled his cigar about in his mouth. “What is that?” hesaid abruptly.
“Pardon me,” returned the Colonel, “but I believe you are the person bestqualified to give us information on that point.”
“I?” cried the President. “A Suicide Club? Come, come! this is a frolicfor All Fools’ Day. I can make allowances for gentlemen who get merry intheir liquor; but let there be an end to this.”
“Call your Club what you will,” said the Colonel, “you have some companybehind these doors, and we insist on joining it.”
“Sir,” returned the President curtly, “you have made a mistake. This isa private house, and you must leave it instantly.”
The Prince had remained quietly in his seat throughout this littlecolloquy; but now, when the Colonel looked over to him, as much as tosay, “Take your answer and come away, for God’s sake!” he drew hischeroot from his mouth, and spoke—
“I have come here,” said he, “upon the invitation of a friend of yours.He has doubtless informed you of my intention in thus intruding on yourparty. Let me remind you that a person in my circumstances hasexceedingly little to bind him, and is not at all likely to tolerate muchrudeness. I am a very quiet man, as a usual thing; but, my dear sir, youare either going to oblige me in the little matter of which you areaware, or you shall very bitterly repent that you ever admitted me toyour ante-chamber.”
The President laughed aloud.
“That is the way to speak,” said he. “You are a man who is a man. Youknow the way to my heart, and can do what you like with me. Will you,”he continued, addressing Geraldine, “will you step aside for a fewminutes? I shall finish first with your companion, and some of theclub’s formalities require to be fulfilled in private.”
With these words he opened the door of a small closet, into which he shutthe Colonel.
“I believe in you,” he said to Florizel, as soon as they were alone; “butare you sure of your friend?”
“Not so sure as I am of myself, though he has more cogent reasons,”answered Florizel, “but sure enough to bring him here without alarm. Hehas had enough to cure the most tenacious man of life. He was cashieredthe other day for cheating at cards.”
“A good reason, I daresay,” replied the President; “at least, we haveanother in the same case, and I feel sure of him. Have you also been inthe Service, may I ask?”
“I have,” was the reply; “but I was too lazy, I left it early.”
“What is your reason for being tired of life?” pursued the President.
“The same, as near as I can make out,” answered the Prince;“unadulterated laziness.”
The President started. “D—n it,” said he, “you must have somethingbetter than that.”
“I have no more money,” added Florizel. “That is also a vexation,without doubt. It brings my sense of idleness to an acute point.”
The President rolled his cigar round in his mouth for some seconds,directing his gaze straight into the eyes of this unusual neophyte; butthe Prince supported his scrutiny with unabashed good temper.
“If I had not a deal of experience,” said the President at last, “Ishould turn you off. But I know the world; and this much any way, thatthe most frivolous excuses for a suicide are often the toughest to standby. And when I downright like a man, as I do you, sir, I would ratherstrain the regulation than deny him.”
The Prince and the Colonel, one after the other, were subjected to a longand particular interrogatory: the Prince alone; but Geraldine in thepresence of the Prince, so that the President might observe thecountenance of the one while the other was being warmly cross-examined.The result was satisfactory; and the President, after having booked a fewdetails of each case, produced a form of oath to be accepted. Nothingcould be conceived more passive than the obedience promised, or morestringent than the terms by which the juror bound himself. The man whoforfeited a pledge so awful could scarcely have a rag of honour or any ofthe consolations of religion left to him. Florizel signed the document,but not without a shudder; the Colonel followed his example with an airof great depression. Then the President received the entry money; andwithout more ado, introduced the two friends into the smoking-room of theSuicide Club.
The smoking-room of the Suicide Club was the same height as the cabinetinto which it opened, but much larger, and papered from top to bottomwith an imitation of oak wainscot. A large and cheerful fire and anumber of gas-jets illuminated the company. The Prince and his followermade the number up to eighteen. Mo
st of the party were smoking, anddrinking champagne; a feverish hilarity reigned, with sudden and ratherghastly pauses.
“Is this a full meeting?” asked the Prince.
“Middling,” said the President. “By the way,” he added, “if you have anymoney, it is usual to offer some champagne. It keeps up a good spirit,and is one of my own little perquisites.”
“Hammersmith,” said Florizel, “I may leave the champagne to you.”
And with that he turned away and began to go round among the guests.Accustomed to play the host in the highest circles, he charmed anddominated all whom he approached; there was something at once winning andauthoritative in his address; and his extraordinary coolness gave him yetanother distinction in this half maniacal society. As he went from oneto another he kept both his eyes and ears open, and soon began to gain ageneral idea of the people among whom he found himself. As in all otherplaces of resort, one type predominated: people in the prime of youth,with every show of intelligence and sensibility in their appearance, butwith little promise of strength or the quality that makes success. Fewwere much above thirty, and not a few were still in their teens. Theystood, leaning on tables and shifting on their feet; sometimes theysmoked extraordinarily fast, and sometimes they let their cigars go out;some talked well, but the conversation of others was plainly the resultof nervous tension, and was equally without wit or purport. As each newbottle of champagne was opened, there was a manifest improvement ingaiety. Only two were seated—one in a chair in the recess of the window,with his head hanging and his hands plunged deep into his trouserpockets, pale, visibly moist with perspiration, saying never a word, avery wreck of soul and body; the other sat on the divan close by thechimney, and attracted notice by a trenchant dissimilarity from all therest. He was probably upwards of forty, but he looked fully ten yearsolder; and Florizel thought he had never seen a man more naturallyhideous, nor one more ravaged by disease and ruinous excitements. He wasno more than skin and bone, was partly paralysed, and wore spectacles ofsuch unusual power, that his eyes appeared through the glasses greatlymagnified and distorted in shape. Except the Prince and the President,he was the only person in the room who preserved the composure ofordinary life.
There was little decency among the members of the club. Some boasted ofthe disgraceful actions, the consequences of which had reduced them toseek refuge in death; and the others listened without disapproval. Therewas a tacit understanding against moral judgments; and whoever passed theclub doors enjoyed already some of the immunities of the tomb. Theydrank to each other’s memories, and to those of notable suicides in thepast. They compared and developed their different views of death—somedeclaring that it was no more than blackness and cessation; others fullof a hope that that very night they should be scaling the stars andcommencing with the mighty dead.
“To the eternal memory of Baron Trenck, the type of suicides!” cried one.“He went out of a small cell into a smaller, that he might come forthagain to freedom.”
“For my part,” said a second, “I wish no more than a bandage for my eyesand cotton for my ears. Only they have no cotton thick enough in thisworld.”
A third was for reading the mysteries of life in a future state; and afourth professed that he would never have joined the club, if he had notbeen induced to believe in Mr. Darwin.
“I could not bear,” said this remarkable suicide, “to be descended froman ape.”
Altogether, the Prince was disappointed by the bearing and conversationof the members.
“It does not seem to me,” he thought, “a matter for so much disturbance.If a man has made up his mind to kill himself, let him do it, in God’sname, like a gentleman. This flutter and big talk is out of place.”
In the meanwhile Colonel Geraldine was a prey to the blackestapprehensions; the club and its rules were still a mystery, and he lookedround the room for some one who should be able to set his mind at rest.In this survey his eye lighted on the paralytic person with the strongspectacles; and seeing him so exceedingly tranquil, he besought thePresident, who was going in and out of the room under a pressure ofbusiness, to present him to the gentleman on the divan.
The functionary explained the needlessness of all such formalities withinthe club, but nevertheless presented Mr. Hammersmith to Mr. Malthus.
Mr. Malthus looked at the Colonel curiously, and then requested him totake a seat upon his right.
“You are a new-comer,” he said, “and wish information? You have come tothe proper source. It is two years since I first visited this charmingclub.”
The Colonel breathed again. If Mr. Malthus had frequented the place fortwo years there could be little danger for the Prince in a singleevening. But Geraldine was none the less astonished, and began tosuspect a mystification.
“What!” cried he, “two years! I thought—but indeed I see I have beenmade the subject of a pleasantry.”
“By no means,” replied Mr. Malthus mildly. “My case is peculiar. I amnot, properly speaking, a suicide at all; but, as it were, an honorarymember. I rarely visit the club twice in two months. My infirmity andthe kindness of the President have procured me these little immunities,for which besides I pay at an advanced rate. Even as it is my luck hasbeen extraordinary.”
“I am afraid,” said the Colonel, “that I must ask you to be moreexplicit. You must remember that I am still most imperfectly acquaintedwith the rules of the club.”
“An ordinary member who comes here in search of death like yourself,”replied the paralytic, “returns every evening until fortune favours him.He can even, if he is penniless, get board and lodging from thePresident: very fair, I believe, and clean, although, of course, notluxurious; that could hardly be, considering the exiguity (if I may soexpress myself) of the subscription. And then the President’s company isa delicacy in itself.”
“Indeed!” cried Geraldine, “he had not greatly prepossessed me.”
“Ah!” said Mr. Malthus, “you do not know the man: the drollest fellow!What stories! What cynicism! He knows life to admiration and, betweenourselves, is probably the most corrupt rogue in Christendom.”
“And he also,” asked the Colonel, “is a permanency—like yourself, if Imay say so without offence?”
“Indeed, he is a permanency in a very different sense from me,” repliedMr. Malthus. “I have hem graciously spared, but I must go at last. Nowhe never plays. He shuffles and deals for the club, and makes thenecessary arrangements. That man, my dear Mr. Hammersmith, is the verysoul of ingenuity. For three years he has pursued in London his usefuland, I think I may add, his artistic calling; and not so much as awhisper of suspicion has been once aroused. I believe him myself to beinspired. You doubtless remember the celebrated case, six months ago, ofthe gentleman who was accidentally poisoned in a chemists shop? That wasone of the least rich, one of the least racy, of his notions; but then,how simple! and how safe!”
“You astound me,” said the Colonel. “Was that unfortunate gentleman oneof the—” He was about to say “victims”; but bethinking himself in time,he substituted—“members of the club?”
In the same flash of thought, it occurred to him that Mr. Malthus himselfhad not at all spoken in the tone of one who is in love with death; andhe added hurriedly:
“But I perceive I am still in the dark. You speak of shuffling anddealing; pray for what end? And since you seem rather unwilling to diethan otherwise, I must own that I cannot conceive what brings you here atall.”
“You say truly that you are in the dark,” replied Mr. Malthus with moreanimation. “Why, my dear sir, this club is the temple of intoxication.If my enfeebled health could support the excitement more often, you maydepend upon it I should be more often here. It requires all the sense ofduty engendered by a long habit of ill-health and careful regimen, tokeep me from excess in this, which is, I may say, my last dissipation. Ihave tried them all, sir,” he went on, laying his hand on Geraldine’sarm, “all without exception, and I
declare to you, upon my honour, thereis not one of them that has not been grossly and untruthfully overrated.People trifle with love. Now, I deny that love is a strong passion.Fear is the strong passion; it is with fear that you must trifle, if youwish to taste the intensest joys of living. Envy me—envy me, sir,” headded with a chuckle, “I am a coward!”
Geraldine could scarcely repress a movement of repulsion for thisdeplorable wretch; but he commanded himself with an effort, and continuedhis inquiries.
“How, sir,” he asked, “is the excitement so artfully prolonged? and whereis there any element of uncertainty?”
“I must tell you how the victim for every evening is selected,” returnedMr. Malthus; “and not only the victim, but another member, who is to bethe instrument in the club’s hands, and death’s high priest for thatoccasion.”
“Good God!” said the Colonel, “do they then kill each other?”
“The trouble of suicide is removed in that way,” returned Malthus with anod.
“Merciful heavens!” ejaculated the Colonel, “and may you—may I—may the—myfriend I mean—may any of us be pitched upon this evening as the slayer ofanother man’s body and immortal spirit? Can such things be possibleamong men born of women? Oh! infamy of infamies!”
He was about to rise in his horror, when he caught the Prince’s eye. Itwas fixed upon him from across the room with a frowning and angry stare.And in a moment Geraldine recovered his composure.
“After all,” he added, “why not? And since you say the game isinteresting, _vogue la galère_—I follow the club!”
Mr. Malthus had keenly enjoyed the Colonel’s amazement and disgust. Hehad the vanity of wickedness; and it pleased him to see another man giveway to a generous movement, while he felt himself, in his entirecorruption, superior to such emotions.
“You now, after your first moment of surprise,” said he, “are in aposition to appreciate the delights of our society. You can see how itcombines the excitement of a gaming-table, a duel, and a Romanamphitheatre. The Pagans did well enough; I cordially admire therefinement of their minds; but it has been reserved for a Christiancountry to attain this extreme, this quintessence, this absolute ofpoignancy. You will understand how vapid are all amusements to a man whohas acquired a taste for this one. The game we play,” he continued, “isone of extreme simplicity. A full pack—but I perceive you are about tosee the thing in progress. Will you lend me the help of your arm? I amunfortunately paralysed.”
Indeed, just as Mr. Malthus was beginning his description, another pairof folding-doors was thrown open, and the whole club began to pass, notwithout some hurry, into the adjoining room. It was similar in everyrespect to the one from which it was entered, but somewhat differentlyfurnished. The centre was occupied by a long green table, at which thePresident sat shuffling a pack of cards with great particularity. Evenwith the stick and the Colonel’s arm, Mr. Malthus walked with so muchdifficulty that every one was seated before this pair and the Prince, whohad waited for them, entered the apartment; and, in consequence, thethree took seats close together at the lower end of the board.
“It is a pack of fifty-two,” whispered Mr. Malthus. “Watch for the aceof spades, which is the sign of death, and the ace of clubs, whichdesignates the official of the night. Happy, happy young men!” he added.“You have good eyes, and can follow the game. Alas! I cannot tell anace from a deuce across the table.”
And he proceeded to equip himself with a second pair of spectacles.
“I must at least watch the faces,” he explained.
The Colonel rapidly informed his friend of all that he had learned fromthe honorary member, and of the horrible alternative that lay beforethem. The Prince was conscious of a deadly chill and a contraction abouthis heart; he swallowed with difficulty, and looked from side to sidelike a man in a maze.
“One bold stroke,” whispered the Colonel, “and we may still escape.”
But the suggestion recalled the Prince’s spirits.
“Silence!” said be. “Let me see that you can play like a gentleman forany stake, however serious.”
And he looked about him, once more to all appearance at his ease,although his heart beat thickly, and he was conscious of an unpleasantheat in his bosom. The members were all very quiet and intent; every onewas pale, but none so pale as Mr. Malthus. His eyes protruded; his headkept nodding involuntarily upon his spine; his hands found their way, oneafter the other, to his mouth, where they made clutches at his tremulousand ashen lips. It was plain that the honorary member enjoyed hismembership on very startling terms.
“Attention, gentlemen!” said the President.
And he began slowly dealing the cards about the table in the reversedirection, pausing until each man had shown his card. Nearly every onehesitated; and sometimes you would see a player’s fingers stumble morethan once before he could turn over the momentous slip of pasteboard. Asthe Prince’s turn drew nearer, he was conscious of a growing and almostsuffocating excitement; but he had somewhat of the gambler’s nature, andrecognised almost with astonishment, that there was a degree of pleasurein his sensations. The nine of clubs fell to his lot; the three ofspades was dealt to Geraldine; and the queen of hearts to Mr. Malthus,who was unable to suppress a sob of relief. The young man of the creamtarts almost immediately afterwards turned over the ace of clubs, andremained frozen with horror, the card still resting on his finger; he hadnot come there to kill, but to be killed; and the Prince in his generoussympathy with his position almost forgot the peril that still hung overhimself and his friend.
The deal was coming round again, and still Death’s card had not come out.The players held their respiration, and only breathed by gasps. ThePrince received another club; Geraldine had a diamond; but when Mr.Malthus turned up his card a horrible noise, like that of somethingbreaking, issued from his mouth; and he rose from his seat and sat downagain, with no sign of his paralysis. It was the ace of spades. Thehonorary member had trifled once too often with his terrors.
Conversation broke out again almost at once. The players relaxed theirrigid attitudes, and began to rise from the table and stroll back by twosand threes into the smoking-room. The President stretched his arms andyawned, like a man who has finished his day’s work. But Mr. Malthus satin his place, with his head in his hands, and his hands upon the table,drunk and motionless—a thing stricken down.
The Prince and Geraldine made their escape at once. In the cold nightair their horror of what they had witnessed was redoubled.
“Alas!” cried the Prince, “to be bound by an oath in such a matter! toallow this wholesale trade in murder to be continued with profit andimpunity! If I but dared to forfeit my pledge!”
“That is impossible for your Highness,” replied the Colonel, “whosehonour is the honour of Bohemia. But I dare, and may with propriety,forfeit mine.”
“Geraldine,” said the Prince, “if your honour suffers in any of theadventures into which you follow me, not only will I never pardon you,but—what I believe will much more sensibly affect you—I should neverforgive myself.”
“I receive your Highness’s commands,” replied the Colonel. “Shall we gofrom this accursed spot?”
“Yes,” said the Prince. “Call a cab in Heaven’s name, and let me try toforget in slumber the memory of this night’s disgrace.”
But it was notable that he carefully read the name of the court before heleft it.
The next morning, as soon as the Prince was stirring, Colonel Geraldinebrought him a daily newspaper, with the following paragraph marked:—
“MELANCHOLY ACCIDENT.—This morning, about two o’clock, Mr. BartholomewMalthus, of 16 Chepstow Place, Westbourne Grove, on his way home from aparty at a friend’s house, fell over the upper parapet in TrafalgarSquare, fracturing his skull and breaking a leg and an arm. Death wasinstantaneous. Mr. Malthus, accompanied by a friend, was engaged inlooking for a cab at the time of the unfortunate occurrence. As Mr.Malthus was p
aralytic, it is thought that his fall may have beenoccasioned by another seizure. The unhappy gentleman was well known inthe most respectable circles, and his loss will be widely and deeplydeplored.”
“If ever a soul went straight to Hell,” said Geraldine solemnly, “it wasthat paralytic man’s.”
The Prince buried his face in his hands, and remained silent.
“I am almost rejoiced,” continued the Colonel, “to know that he is dead.But for our young man of the cream tarts I confess my heart bleeds.”
“Geraldine,” said the Prince, raising his face, “that unhappy lad waslast night as innocent as you and I; and this morning the guilt of bloodis on his soul. When I think of the President, my heart grows sickwithin me. I do not know how it shall be done, but I shall have thatscoundrel at my mercy as there is a God in heaven. What an experience,what a lesson, was that game of cards!”
“One,” said the Colonel, “never to be repeated.”
The Prince remained so long without replying, that Geraldine grewalarmed.
“You cannot mean to return,” he said. “You have suffered too much andseen too much horror already. The duties of your high position forbidthe repetition of the hazard.”
“There is much in what you say,” replied Prince Florizel, “and I am notaltogether pleased with my own determination. Alas! in the clothes ofthe greatest potentate, what is there but a man? I never felt myweakness more acutely than now, Geraldine, but it is stronger than I.Can I cease to interest myself in the fortunes of the unhappy young manwho supped with us some hours ago? Can I leave the President to followhis nefarious career unwatched? Can I begin an adventure so entrancing,and not follow it to an end? No, Geraldine: you ask of the Prince morethan the man is able to perform. To-night, once more, we take our placesat the table of the Suicide Club.”
Colonel Geraldine fell upon his knees.
“Will your Highness take my life?” he cried. “It is his—his freely; butdo not, O do not! let him ask me to countenance so terrible a risk.”
“Colonel Geraldine,” replied the Prince, with some haughtiness of manner,“your life is absolutely your own. I only looked for obedience; and whenthat is unwillingly rendered, I shall look for that no longer. I add oneword your: importunity in this affair has been sufficient.”
The Master of the Horse regained his feet at once.
“Your Highness,” he said, “may I be excused in my attendance thisafternoon? I dare not, as an honourable man, venture a second time intothat fatal house until I have perfectly ordered my affairs. YourHighness shall meet, I promise him, with no more opposition from the mostdevoted and grateful of his servants.”
“My dear Geraldine,” returned Prince Florizel, “I always regret when youoblige me to remember my rank. Dispose of your day as you think fit, butbe here before eleven in the same disguise.”
The club, on this second evening, was not so fully attended; and whenGeraldine and the Prince arrived, there were not above half-a-dozenpersons in the smoking-room. His Highness took the President aside andcongratulated him warmly on the demise of Mr. Malthus.
“I like,” he said, “to meet with capacity, and certainly find much of itin you. Your profession is of a very delicate nature, but I see you arewell qualified to conduct it with success and secrecy.”
The President was somewhat affected by these compliments from one of hisHighness’s superior bearing. He acknowledged them almost with humility.
“Poor Malthy!” he added, “I shall hardly know the club without him. Themost of my patrons are boys, sir, and poetical boys, who are not muchcompany for me. Not but what Malthy had some poetry, too; but it was ofa kind that I could understand.”
“I can readily imagine you should find yourself in sympathy with Mr.Malthus,” returned the Prince. “He struck me as a man of a very originaldisposition.”
The young man of the cream tarts was in the room, but painfully depressedand silent. His late companions sought in vain to lead him intoconversation.
“How bitterly I wish,” he cried, “that I had never brought you to thisinfamous abode! Begone, while you are clean-handed. If you could haveheard the old man scream as he fell, and the noise of his bones upon thepavement! Wish me, if you have any kindness to so fallen a being—wishthe ace of spades for me to-night!”
A few more members dropped in as the evening went on, but the club didnot muster more than the devil’s dozen when they took their places at thetable. The Prince was again conscious of a certain joy in his alarms;but he was astonished to see Geraldine so much more self-possessed thanon the night before.
“It is extraordinary,” thought the Prince, “that a will, made or unmade,should so greatly influence a young man’s spirit.”
“Attention, gentlemen!” said the President, and he began to deal.
Three times the cards went all round the table, and neither of the markedcards had yet fallen from his hand. The excitement as he began thefourth distribution was overwhelming. There were just cards enough to goonce more entirely round. The Prince, who sat second from the dealer’sleft, would receive, in the reverse mode of dealing practised at theclub, the second last card. The third player turned up a black ace—itwas the ace of clubs. The next received a diamond, the next a heart, andso on; but the ace of spades was still undelivered. At last, Geraldine,who sat upon the Prince’s left, turned his card; it was an ace, but theace of hearts.
When Prince Florizel saw his fate upon the table in front of him, hisheart stood still. He was a brave man, but the sweat poured off hisface. There were exactly fifty chances out of a hundred that he wasdoomed. He reversed the card; it was the ace of spades. A loud roaringfilled his brain, and the table swam before his eyes. He heard theplayer on his right break into a fit of laughter that sounded betweenmirth and disappointment; he saw the company rapidly dispersing, but hismind was full of other thoughts. He recognised how foolish, howcriminal, had been his conduct. In perfect health, in the prime of hisyears, the heir to a throne, he had gambled away his future and that of abrave and loyal country. “God,” he cried, “God forgive me!” And withthat, the confusion of his senses passed away, and he regained hisself-possession in a moment.
To his surprise Geraldine had disappeared. There was no one in thecard-room but his destined butcher consulting with the President, and theyoung man of the cream tarts, who slipped up to the Prince, and whisperedin his ear:—
“I would give a million, if I had it, for your luck.”
His Highness could not help reflecting, as the young man departed, thathe would have sold his opportunity for a much more moderate sum.
The whispered conference now came to an end. The holder of the ace ofclubs left the room with a look of intelligence, and the President,approaching the unfortunate Prince, proffered him his hand.
“I am pleased to have met you, sir,” said he, “and pleased to have beenin a position to do you this trifling service. At least, you cannotcomplain of delay. On the second evening—what a stroke of luck!”
The Prince endeavoured in vain to articulate something in response, buthis mouth was dry and his tongue seemed paralysed.
“You feel a little sickish?” asked the President, with some show ofsolicitude. “Most gentlemen do. Will you take a little brandy?”
The Prince signified in the affirmative, and the other immediately filledsome of the spirit into a tumbler.
“Poor old Malthy!” ejaculated the President, as the Prince drained theglass. “He drank near upon a pint, and little enough good it seemed todo him!”
“I am more amenable to treatment,” said the Prince, a good deal revived.“I am my own man again at once, as you perceive. And so, let me ask you,what are my directions?”
“You will proceed along the Strand in the direction of the City, and onthe left-hand pavement, until you meet the gentleman who has just leftthe room. He will continue your instructions, and him you will have thekindness to obey; the authority of the club
is vested in his person forthe night. And now,” added the President, “I wish you a pleasant walk.”
Florizel acknowledged the salutation rather awkwardly, and took hisleave. He passed through the smoking-room, where the bulk of the playerswere still consuming champagne, some of which he had himself ordered andpaid for; and he was surprised to find himself cursing them in his heart.He put on his hat and greatcoat in the cabinet, and selected his umbrellafrom a corner. The familiarity of these acts, and the thought that hewas about them for the last time, betrayed him into a fit of laughterwhich sounded unpleasantly in his own ears. He conceived a reluctance toleave the cabinet, and turned instead to the window. The sight of thelamps and the darkness recalled him to himself.
“Come, come, I must be a man,” he thought, “and tear myself away.”
At the corner of Box Court three men fell upon Prince Florizel and he wasunceremoniously thrust into a carriage, which at once drove rapidly away.There was already an occupant.
“Will your Highness pardon my zeal?” said a well known voice.
The Prince threw himself upon the Colonel’s neck in a passion of relief.
“How can I ever thank you?” he cried. “And how was this effected?”
Although he had been willing to march upon his doom, he was overjoyed toyield to friendly violence, and return once more to life and hope.
“You can thank me effectually enough,” replied the Colonel, “by avoidingall such dangers in the future. And as for your second question, all hasbeen managed by the simplest means. I arranged this afternoon with acelebrated detective. Secrecy has been promised and paid for. Your ownservants have been principally engaged in the affair. The house in BoxCourt has been surrounded since nightfall, and this, which is one of yourown carriages, has been awaiting you for nearly an hour.”
“And the miserable creature who was to have slain me—what of him?”inquired the Prince.
“He was pinioned as he left the club,” replied the Colonel, “and nowawaits your sentence at the Palace, where he will soon be joined by hisaccomplices.”
“Geraldine,” said the Prince, “you have saved me against my explicitorders, and you have done well. I owe you not only my life, but alesson; and I should be unworthy of my rank if I did not show myselfgrateful to my teacher. Let it be yours to choose the manner.”
There was a pause, during which the carriage continued to speed throughthe streets, and the two men were each buried in his own reflections.The silence was broken by Colonel Geraldine.
“Your Highness,” said he, “has by this time a considerable body ofprisoners. There is at least one criminal among the number to whomjustice should be dealt. Our oath forbids us all recourse to law; anddiscretion would forbid it equally if the oath were loosened. May Iinquire your Highness’s intention?”
“It is decided,” answered Florizel; “the President must fall in duel. Itonly remains to choose his adversary.”
“Your Highness has permitted me to name my own recompense,” said theColonel. “Will he permit me to ask the appointment of my brother? It isan honourable post, but I dare assure your Highness that the lad willacquit himself with credit.”
“You ask me an ungracious favour,” said the Prince, “but I must refuseyou nothing.”
The Colonel kissed his hand with the greatest affection; and at thatmoment the carriage rolled under the archway of the Prince’s splendidresidence.
An hour after, Florizel in his official robes, and covered with all theorders of Bohemia, received the members of the Suicide Club.
“Foolish and wicked men,” said he, “as many of you as have been driveninto this strait by the lack of fortune shall receive employment andremuneration from my officers. Those who suffer under a sense of guiltmust have recourse to a higher and more generous Potentate than I. Ifeel pity for all of you, deeper than you can imagine; to-morrow youshall tell me your stories; and as you answer more frankly, I shall bethe more able to remedy your misfortunes. As for you,” he added, turningto the President, “I should only offend a person of your parts by anyoffer of assistance; but I have instead a piece of diversion to proposeto you. Here,” laying his hand on the shoulder of Colonel Geraldine’syoung brother, “is an officer of mine who desires to make a little tourupon the Continent; and I ask you, as a favour, to accompany him on thisexcursion. Do you,” he went on, changing his tone, “do you shoot wellwith the pistol? Because you may have need of that accomplishment. Whentwo men go travelling together, it is best to be prepared for all. Letme add that, if by any chance you should lose young Mr. Geraldine uponthe way, I shall always have another member of my household to place atyour disposal; and I am known, Mr. President, to have long eyesight, andas long an arm.”
With these words, said with much sternness, the Prince concluded hisaddress. Next morning the members of the club were suitably provided forby his munificence, and the President set forth upon his travels, underthe supervision of Mr. Geraldine, and a pair of faithful and adroitlackeys, well trained in the Prince’s household. Not content with this,discreet agents were put in possession of the house in Box Court, and allletters or visitors for the Suicide Club or its officials were to beexamined by Prince Florizel in person.
* * * * *
_Here_ (says my Arabian author) _ends_ THE STORY OF THE YOUNG MAN WITHTHE CREAM TARTS, _who is now a comfortable householder in WigmoreStreet_, _Cavendish Square_. _The number_, _for obvious reasons_, _Isuppress_. _Those who care to pursue the adventures of Prince Florizeland the President of the Suicide Club_, _may read the_ HISTORY OF THEPHYSICIAN AND THE SARATOGA TRUNK.