Robert Louis Stevenson
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Robert Louis Stevenson
and accustomed to take the world with as much philosophy as any ploughman, the Prince of Bohemia was not without a taste for ways of life more adventurous and ec-Nights
centric than that to which he was destined by his birth.
Now and then, when he fell into a low humour, when there was no laughable play to witness in any of the London by
theatres, and when the season of the year was unsuitable to those field sports in which he excelled all competitors, Robert Louis Stevenson
he would summon his confidant and Master of the Horse, Colonel Geraldine, and bid him prepare himself against an evening ramble. The Master of the Horse was a young of-THE SUICIDE CLUB
ficer of a brave and even temerarious disposition. He greeted the news with delight, and hastened to make ready.
STORY OF THE YOUNG MAN
Long practice and a varied acquaintance of life had given WITH THE CREAM TARTS
him a singular facility in disguise; he could adapt not only his face and bearing, but his voice and almost his thoughts, DURING HIS RESIDENCE in London, the accomplished Prince to those of any rank, character, or nation; and in this way Florizel of Bohemia gained the affection of all classes by he diverted attention from the Prince, and sometimes gained the seduction of his manner and by a well-considered gen-admission for the pair into strange societies. The civil au-erosity. He was a remarkable man even by what was known thorities were never taken into the secret of these adven-of him; and that was but a small part of what he actually tures; the imperturbable courage of the one and the ready did. Although of a placid temper in ordinary circumstances, 4
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invention and chivalrous devotion of the other had brought cursion, when the swing doors were pushed violently them through a score of dangerous passes; and they grew open, and a young man, followed by a couple of in confidence as time went on.
commissionaires, entered the bar. Each of the One evening in March they were driven by a sharp fall of commissionaires carried a large dish of cream tarts under sleet into an Oyster Bar in the immediate neighbourhood a cover, which they at once removed; and the young man of Leicester Square. Colonel Geraldine was dressed and made the round of the company, and pressed these con-painted to represent a person connected with the Press in fections upon every one’s acceptance with an exagger-reduced circumstances; while the Prince had, as usual, trav-ated courtesy. Sometimes his offer was laughingly ac-estied his appearance by the addition of false whiskers and cepted; sometimes it was firmly, or even harshly, rejected.
a pair of large adhesive eyebrows. These lent him a shaggy In these latter cases the new-comer always ate the tart and weather-beaten air, which, for one of his urbanity, himself, with some more or less humorous commentary.
formed the most impenetrable disguise. Thus equipped, the At last he accosted Prince Florizel.
commander and his satellite sipped their brandy and soda
“Sir,” said he, with a profound obeisance, proffering the in security.
tart at the same time between his thumb and forefinger, The bar was full of guests, male and female; but though
“will you so far honour an entire stranger? I can answer more than one of these offered to fall into talk with our for the quality of the pastry, having eaten two dozen and adventurers, none of them promised to grow interesting three of them myself since five o’clock.” upon a nearer acquaintance. There was nothing present
“I am in the habit,” replied the Prince, “of looking not so but the lees of London and the commonplace of disre-much to the nature of a gift as to the spirit in which it is spectability; and the Prince had already fallen to yawn-offered.”
ing, and was beginning to grow weary of the whole ex-
“The spirit, sir,” returned the young man, with another 5
Robert Louis Stevenson
bow, “is one of mockery.”
have already a deep interest in your very agreeable mode
“Mockery?” repeated Florizel. “And whom do you proof passing an evening. And now that the preliminaries of pose to mock?”
peace are settled, allow me to sign the treaty for both.”
“I am not here to expound my philosophy,” replied the And the Prince swallowed the tart with the best grace other, “but to distribute these cream tarts. If I mention that imaginable.
I heartily include myself in the ridicule of the transaction, I
“It is delicious,” said he.
hope you will consider honour satisfied and condescend.
“I perceive you are a connoisseur,” replied the young man.
If not, you will constrain me to eat my twenty-eighth, and Colonel Geraldine likewise did honour to the pastry; and I own to being weary of the exercise.” every one in that bar having now either accepted or refused
“You touch me,” said the Prince, “and I have all the will his delicacies, the young man with the cream tarts led the in the world to rescue you from this dilemma, but upon way to another and similar establishment. The two one condition. If my friend and I eat your cakes – for which commissionaires, who seemed to have grown accustomed we have neither of us any natural inclination – we shall to their absurd employment, followed immediately after; and expect you to join us at supper by way of recompense.” the Prince and the Colonel brought up the rear, arm in arm, The young man seemed to reflect.
and smiling to each other as they went. In this order the
“I have still several dozen upon hand,” he said at last; company visited two other taverns, where scenes were en-
“and that will make it necessary for me to visit several more acted of a like nature to that already described – some refus-bars before my great affair is concluded. This will take some ing, some accepting, the favours of this vagabond hospital-time; and if you are hungry – “
ity, and the young man himself eating each rejected tart.
The Prince interrupted him with a polite gesture.
On leaving the third saloon the young man counted his
“My friend and I will accompany you,” he said; “for we store. There were but nine remaining, three in one tray and 6
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six in the other.
an exaggerated reputation for some little while, but had
“Gentlemen,” said he, addressing himself to his two new already begun to be forgotten, and in a private room up followers, “I am unwilling to delay your supper. I am posi-two pair of stairs, the three companions made a very el-tively sure you must be hungry. I feel that I owe you a egant supper, and drank three or four bottles of champagne, special consideration. And on this great day for me, when talking the while upon indifferent subjects. The young man I am closing a career of folly by my most conspicuously was fluent and gay, but he laughed louder than was natural silly action, I wish to behave handsomely to all who give in a person of polite breeding; his hands trembled violently, me countenance. Gentlemen, you shall wait no longer. Al-and his voice took sudden and surprising inflections, which though my constitution is shattered by previous excesses, seemed to be independent of his will. The dessert had been at the risk of my life I liquidate the suspensory condition.” cleared away, and all three had lighted their cigars, when With these words he crushed the nine remaining tarts the Prince addressed him in these words:-
into his mouth, and swallowed them at a single movement
“You will, I am sure, pardon my curiosity. What I have each. Then, turning to the commissionaires, he gave them seen of you has greatly pleased but even more puzzled me.
a couple of sovereigns.
And though I should be loth to seem indiscreet, I must tell
“I have to thank you,” said be, “for your extraordinary you that my friend and I are persons very well worthy to patience.”
be entrusted with a secret. We have many of our own, which And he dismissed them with a bow apiece. For some sec-we are continually revealing to improper ears. And if, as I onds he stood looking at the purse from which he had just suppose, your story is a silly one, you need have no deli-paid his assistants, then, with a laugh, he tossed it into the cacy with us, who are two of the silliest men in England.
middle of the street, and signified his readiness for supper.
My name is Godall, Theophilus Godall; my friend is Major In a small French restaurant in Soho, which had enjoyed Alfred Hammersmith – or at least, such is the name by 7
Robert Louis Stevenson
which he chooses to be known. We pass our lives entirely it has been my chief delight to indulge. I received a good in the search for extravagant adventures; and there is no education. I can play the violin nearly well enough to earn extravagance with which we are not capable of sympathy.” money in the orchestra of a penny gaff, but not quite. The
“I like you, Mr. Godall,” returned the young man; “you same remark applies to the flute and the French horn. I inspire me with a natural confidence; and I have not the learned enough of whist to lose about a hundred a year at slightest objection to your friend the Major, whom I take that scientific game. My acquaintance with French was to be a nobleman in masquerade. At least, I am sure he is sufficient to enable me to squander money in Paris with no soldier.”
almost the same facility as in London. In short, I am a per-The Colonel smiled at this compliment to the perfection son full of manly accomplishments. I have had every sort of his art; and the young man went on in a more animated of adventure, including a duel about nothing. Only two manner.
months ago I met a young lady exactly suited to my taste
“There is every reason why I should not tell you my story.
in mind and body; I found my heart melt; I saw that I had Perhaps that is just the reason why I am going to do so. At come upon my fate at last, and was in the way to fall in least, you seem so well prepared to hear a tale of silliness love. But when I came to reckon up what remained to me that I cannot find it in my heart to disappoint you. My of my capital, I found it amounted to something less than name, in spite of your example, I shall keep to myself. My four hundred pounds! I ask you fairly – can a man who age is not essential to the narrative. I am descended from respects himself fall in love on four hundred pounds? I my ancestors by ordinary generation, and from them I in-concluded, certainly not; left the presence of my charmer, herited the very eligible human tenement which I still oc-and slightly accelerating my usual rate of expenditure, came cupy and a fortune of three hundred pounds a year. I sup-this morning to my last eighty pounds. This I divided into pose they also handed on to me a hare-brain humour, which two equal parts; forty I reserved for a particular purpose; 8
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the remaining forty I was to dissipate before the night. I this supper a folly like my cream tarts? Has the devil brought have passed a very entertaining day, and played many three of his own together for a last carouse?” farces besides that of the cream tarts which procured me
“The devil, depend upon it, can sometimes do a very the advantage of your acquaintance; for I was determined, gentlemanly thing,” returned Prince Florizel; “and I am so as I told you, to bring a foolish career to a still more much touched by this coincidence, that, although we are foolish conclusion; and when you saw me throw my purse not entirely in the same case, I am going to put an end to into the street, the forty pounds were at an end. Now you the disparity. Let your heroic treatment of the last cream know me as well as I know myself: a fool, but consistent tarts be my example.”
in his folly; and, as I will ask you to believe, neither a So saying, the Prince drew out his purse and took from it whimperer nor a coward.”
a small bundle of bank-notes.
From the whole tone of the young man’s statement it was
“You see, I was a week or so behind you, but I mean to plain that he harboured very bitter and contemptuous thoughts catch you up and come neck and neck into the winning-about himself. His auditors were led to imagine that his love post,” he continued. “This,” laying one of the notes upon affair was nearer his heart than he admitted, and that he had a the table, “will suffice for the bill. As for the rest – “ design on his own life. The farce of the cream tarts began to He tossed them into the fire, and they went up the chim-have very much the air of a tragedy in disguise.
ney in a single blaze.
“Why, is this not odd,” broke out Geraldine, giving a The young man tried to catch his arm, but as the table look to Prince Florizel, “that we three fellows should have was between them his interference came too late.
met by the merest accident in so large a wilderness as Lon-
“Unhappy man,” he cried, “you should not have burned don, and should be so nearly in the same condition?” them all! You should have kept forty pounds.”
“How?” cried the young man. “Are you, too, ruined? Is
“Forty pounds!” repeated the Prince. “Why, in heaven’s 9
Robert Louis Stevenson
name, forty pounds?”
“or else a millionaire.”
“Why not eighty?” cried the Colonel; “for to my certain
“Enough, sir,” said the Prince; “I have said so, and I am knowledge there must have been a hundred in the bundle.” not accustomed to have my word remain in doubt.”
“It was only forty pounds he needed,” said the young
“Ruined?” said the young man. “Are you ruined, like me?
man gloomily. “But without them there is no admission.
Are you, after a life of indulgence, come to such a pass The rule is strict. Forty pounds for each. Accursed life, that you can only indulge yourself in one thing more? Are where a man cannot even die without money!” you” – he kept lowering his voice as he went on – “are you The Prince and the Colonel exchanged glances. “Explain going to give yourselves that last indulgence? Are you going yourself,” said the latter. “I have still a pocket-book toler-to avoid the consequences of your folly by the one infal-ably well lined, and I need not say how readily I should lible and easy path? Are you going to give the slip to the share my wealth with Godall. But I must know to what sheriff’s officers of conscience by the one open door?” end: you must certainly tell us what you mean.” Suddenly he broke off and attempted to laugh.
The young man seemed to awaken; he looked uneasily
“Here is your health!” he cried, emptying his glass, “and from one to the other, and his face flushed deeply.
good night to you, my merry ruined men.”
“You are not fooling me?” he asked. “You are indeed Colonel Geraldine caught him by the arm as he was about ruined men like me?”
“Indeed, I am for my part,” replied the Colonel.
“You lack confidence in us,” he said, “and you are wrong.
“And for mine,” said the Prince, “I have given you proof.
To all your questions I make answer in the affirmative. But Who but a ruined man would throw his notes into the fire?
I am not so timid, and can speak the Queen’s English plainly.
The action speaks for itself.”
We too, like yourself, have had enough of life, and are
“A ruined man – yes,” returned the other suspiciously, determined to die. Sooner or later, alone or together, we 10
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meant to seek out death and beard him where he lies ready.
Since we have met you, and your case is more pressing, let Geraldine ostentatiously consulted his pocket-book, and it be to-night – and at once – and, if you will, all three replied in the affirmative.
together. Such a penniless trio,” he cried, “should go arm
“Fortunate beings!” cried the young man. “Forty pounds in arm into the halls of Pluto, and give each other some is the entry money of the Suicide Club.” countenance among the shades!”
“The Suicide Club,” said the Prince, “why, what the devil Geraldine had hit exactly on the manners and intonations is that?”
that became the part he was playing. The Prince himself
“Listen,” said the young man; “this is the age of conve-was disturbed, and looked over at his confidant with a shade niences, and I have to tell you of the last perfection of the of doubt. As for the young man, the flush came back darkly sort. We have affairs in different places; and hence rail-into his cheek, and his eyes threw out a spark of light.
ways were invented. Railways separated us infallibly from
“You are the men for me!” he cried, with an almost ter-our friends; and so telegraphs were made that we might rible gaiety. “Shake hands upon the bargain!” (his hand communicate speedier at great distances. Even in hotels was cold and wet). “You little know in what a company we have lifts to spare us a climb of some hundred steps.
you will begin the march! You little know in what a happy Now, we know that life is only a stage to play the fool moment for yourselves you partook of my cream tarts! I upon as long as the part amuses us. There was one more am only a unit, but I am a unit in an army. I know Death’s convenience lacking to modern comfort; a decent, easy way private door. I am one of his familiars, and can show you to quit that stage; the back stairs to liberty; or, as I said this into eternity without ceremony and yet without scandal.” moment, Death’s private door. This, my two fellow-rebels, They called upon him eagerly to explain his meaning.
is supplied by the Suicide Club. Do not suppose that you
“Can you muster eighty pounds between you?” he de-and I are alone, or even exceptional in the highly reason-11
Robert Louis Stevenson
able desire that we profess. A large number of our fellow-now (consulting his watch) eleven; by half-past, at latest, men, who have grown heartily sick of the performance in we must leave this place; so that you have half-an-hour which they are expected to join daily and all their lives before you to consider my proposal. It is more serious than long, are only kept from flight by one or two considera cream tart,” he added, with a smile; “and I suspect more ations. Some have families who would be shocked, or even palatable.”
blamed, if the matter became public; others have a weak-
“More serious, certainly,” returned Colonel Geraldine; ness at heart and recoil from the circumstances of death.
“and as it is so much more so, will you allow me five min-That is, to some extent, my own experience. I cannot put a utes’ speech in private with my friend, Mr. Godall?” pistol to my head and draw the trigger; for something stron-
“It is only fair,” answered the young man. “If you will ger than myself withholds the act; and although I loathe permit, I will retire.”
life, I have not strength enough in my body to take hold of
“You will be very obliging,” said the Colonel.
death and be done with it. For such as I, and for all who As soon as the two were alone – “What,” said Prince desire to be out of the coil without posthumous scandal, Florizel, “is the use of this confabulation, Geraldine? I see the Suicide Club has been inaugurated. How this has been you are flurried, whereas my mind is very tranquilly made managed, what is its history, or what may be its ramifica-up. I will see the end of this.”
tions in other lands, I am myself uninformed; and what I
“Your Highness,” said the Colonel, turning pale; “let me know of its constitution, I am not at liberty to communi-ask you to consider the importance of your life, not only to cate to you. To this extent, however, I am at your service.
your friends, but to the public interest. ‘If not to-night,’
If you are truly tired of life, I will introduce you to-night to said this madman; but supposing that to-night some irrepa-a meeting; and if not to-night, at least some time within the rable disaster were to overtake your Highness’s person, week, you will be easily relieved of your existences. It is what, let me ask you, what would be my despair, and what 12
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the concern and disaster of a great nation?” way before the cab stopped at the entrance to a rather dark
“I will see the end of this,” repeated the Prince in his court. Here all descended.
most deliberate tones; “and have the kindness, Colonel After Geraldine had paid the fare, the young man turned, Geraldine, to remember and respect your word of honour and addressed Prince Florizel as follows:-
as a gentleman. Under no circumstances, recollect, nor
“It is still time, Mr. Godall, to make good your escape without my special authority, are you to betray the incog-into thraldom. And for you too, Major Hammersmith. Re-nito under which I choose to go abroad. These were my flect well before you take another step; and if your hearts commands, which I now reiterate. And now,” he added, say no – here are the cross-roads.”
“let me ask you to call for the bill.”
“Lead on, sir,” said the Prince. “I am not the man to go Colonel Geraldine bowed in submission; but he had a back from a thing once said.”
very white face as he summoned the young man of the
“Your coolness does me good,” replied their guide. “I have cream tarts, and issued his directions to the waiter. The never seen any one so unmoved at this conjuncture; and yet Prince preserved his undisturbed demeanour, and described you are not the first whom I have escorted to this door.
a Palais Royal farce to the young suicide with great humour More than one of my friends has preceded me, where I knew and gusto. He avoided the Colonel’s appealing looks withI must shortly follow. But this is of no interest to you. Wait out ostentation, and selected another cheroot with more me here for only a few moments; I shall return as soon as I than usual care. Indeed, he was now the only man of the have arranged the preliminaries of your introduction.” party who kept any command over his nerves.
And with that the young man, waving his hand to his The bill was discharged, the Prince giving the whole companions, turned into the court, entered a doorway and change of the note to the astonished waiter; and the three disappeared.
drove off in a four-wheeler. They were not long upon the
“Of all our follies,” said Colonel Geraldine in a low voice, 13
Robert Louis Stevenson
“this is the wildest and most dangerous.”
“Follow me,” was the reply. “The President will see you
“I perfectly believe so,” returned the Prince.
in the cabinet. And let me warn you to be frank in your
“We have still,” pursued the Colonel, “a moment to our-answers. I have stood your guarantee; but the club requires selves. Let me beseech your Highness to profit by the op-a searching inquiry before admission; for the indiscretion portunity and retire. The consequences of this step are so of a single member would lead to the dispersion of the dark, and may be so grave, that I feel myself justified in whole society for ever.”
pushing a little farther than usual the liberty which your The Prince and Geraldine put their heads together for a Highness is so condescending as to allow me in private.” moment. “Bear me out in this,” said the one; and “bear me
“Am I to understand that Colonel Geraldine is afraid?” out in that,” said the other; and by boldly taking up the asked his Highness, taking his cheroot from his lips, and characters of men with whom both were acquainted, they looking keenly into the other’s face.
had come to an agreement in a twinkling, and were ready
“My fear is certainly not personal,” replied the other to follow their guide into the President’s cabinet.
proudly; “of that your Highness may rest well assured.” There were no formidable obstacles to pass. The outer
“I had supposed as much,” returned the Prince, with un-door stood open; the door of the cabinet was ajar; and disturbed good humour; “but I was unwilling to remind there, in a small but very high apartment, the young man you of the difference in our stations. No more – no