by the opportunity and retire. The consequences of
this step are so dark, and may be so grave, that I feel
myself justified in pushing a little farther than usual the
liberty which your Highness is so condescending as to
allow me in private."
"Am I to understand that Colonel Geraldine is
afraid ? " asked his Highness, taking his cheroot from
his lips, and looking keenly into the other's face.
"My fear is certainly not personal," replied the other
proudly ; ' ' of that your Highness may rest well assured. "
" I had supposed as much," returned the Prince, with
undisturbed good humour; "but I was unwilling to re-
mind you of the difference in our stations. No more
no more," he added, seeing Geraldine about to apologize,
"you stand excused."
And he smoked placidly, leaning against a railing,
until the young man returned.
"Well," he asked, "has our reception been ar-
ranged ? "
" 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 your guarantee;
NEW ARABIAN NIGHTS
but the club requires a searching inquiry before admis-
sion ; for the indiscretion of a single member would lead
to the dispersion of the whole society forever."
The Prince and Geraldine put their heads together for
a moment. "Bear me out 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 were
acquainted, they had come to an agreement in a twink-
ling, and were ready to follow their guide into the
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 high apartment, 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 fold-
ing doors which formed one end; and now and then
the noise of a champagne cork, followed by a burst of
laughter, intervened among the sounds of conversation.
A single tall window looked out upon the river and the
embankment; and by the disposition of the lights they
judged themselves not far from Charing Cross station.
The furniture was scanty, and the coverings worn to
the thread; and there was nothing movable except a
hand-bell in the centre of a round table, and the hats
and coats of a considerable party hung round the wall
"What sort of a den is this ?" said Geraldine.
" That is what I have come to see," replied the Prince.
" If they keep live devils on the premises, the thing may
THE SUICIDE CLUB
Just then the folding door was opened no more than
was necessary for the passage of a human body; and
there entered at the same moment a louder buzz of talk,
and the redoubtable President of the Suicide Club. The
President 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 gray eye, which now and
then emitted a twinkle. His mouth, which embraced
a large cigar, he kept continually screwing round and
round and from side to side, as he looked sagaciously
and coldly at the strangers. He was dressed in light
tweeds, with his neck very open, in a striped shirt
collar; and carried a minute book under one arm.
"Good evening," said he, after he had closed the door
behind him. " I am told 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 ?" he said abruptly.
"Pardon me," returned the Colonel, "but I believe
you are the person best qualified to give us information
on that point."
" I ? " cried the President. ' ' A Suicide Club ? Come,
come! this is a frolic for All Fools' Day. I can make
allowances for gentlemen who get merry in their liquor ;
but let there be an end to this."
"Call your Club what you will," said the Colonel,
"you have some company behind these doors, and we
insist on joining it."
"Sir," returned the President, curtly, "you have
made a mistake. This is a private house, and you
must leave it instantly."
NEW ARABIAN NIGHTS
The Prince had remained quietly in his seat through-
out this little colloquy; but now, when the Colonel
looked over to him, as much as to say, "Take your
answer and come away, for God's sake! " he drew his
cheroot 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 your party. Let me
remind you that a person in my circumstances has ex-
ceedingly little to bind him, and is not at all likely to
tolerate much rudeness. I am a very quiet man, as a
usual thing; but, my dear sir, you are either going to
oblige me in the little matter of which you are aware,
or you shall very bitterly repent that you ever admitted
me to your ante-chamber."
The President laughed aloud.
"That is the way to speak," said he. "You are a
man who is a man. You know 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 few minutes ? I shall finish first with your com-
panion, and some of the club's formalities require to
be fulfilled in private."
With these words he opened the door of a small
closet, into which he shut the Colonel.
"I believe in you," he said to Florizel, as soon as
they were alone; "but are 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. He has had enough
to cure the most tenacious man of life. He was cash-
iered the other day for cheating at cards."
THE SUICIDE CLUB
"A good reason, I daresay," replied the President;
"at least, we have another in the same case, and I feel
sure of him. Have you also been in the Service, may I
ask ? "
" I have," was the reply; " but I was too lazy, I left
"What is your reason for being tired of life?" pur-
sued 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 something better 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 ; but the Prince supported his
scrutiny with unabashed good temper.
" If I had not a deal of experience," said the President
at last, "I should turn you off. But I know the world ;
and this much any way, that the most frivolous excuses
for a suicide are often the toughest to stand by. And
when I downright like a man, as I do you, sir, I would
rather strain the regulation than deny him."
The Prince and the Colonel, one after the other, were
subjected to a long and particular interrogatory: the
Prince alone; but Geraldine in the presence of the Prince,
so that the President might observe the countenance of
the one while the other was being warmly cross-exam-
ined. The result was satisfactory; and the President,
after having booked a few details of each case, produced
NEW ARABIAN NIGHTS
a form of oath to be accepted. Nothing could be con-
ceived more passive than the obedience promised, or
more stringent than the terms by which the juror bound
himself. The man who forfeited a pledge so awful could
scarcely have a rag of honour or any of the consolations
of religion left to him. Florizel signed the document,
but not without a shudder; the Colonel followed his ex-
ample with an air of great depression. Then the Presi-
dent received the entry money ; and without more ado,
introduced the two friends into the smoking-room of the
The smoking-room of the Suicide Club was the same
height as the cabinet into which it opened, but much
larger, and papered from top to bottom with an imita-
tion of oak wainscot. A large and cheerful fire and a
number of gas-jets illuminated the company. The
Prince and his follower made the number up to eighteen.
Most of the party were smoking, and drinking cham-
pagne; a feverish hilarity reigned, with sudden and
rather ghastly pauses.
"Is this a full meeting ?" asked the Prince.
"Middling," said the President. "By the way," he
added, "if you have any money, 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 and dominated all whom he
approached ; there was something at once winning and
authoritative in his address ; and his extraordinary cool-
THE SUICIDE CLUB
ness gave him yet another distinction in this half
maniacal society. As he went from one to another he
kept both his eyes and ears open, and soon began to
gain a general idea of the people among whom he
found himself. As in all other places of resort, one
type predominated : people in the prime of youth,
with every show of intelligence and sensibility in their
appearance, but with little promise of strength or the
quality that makes success. Few were much above
thirty, and not a few were still in their teens. They
stood, leaning on tables and shifting on their feet;
sometimes they smoked extraordinarily fast, and some-
times they let their cigars go out; some talked well,
but the conversation of others was plainly the re-
sult of nervous tension, and was equally without wit
or purport. As each new bottle of champagne was
opened, there was a manifest improvement in gayety.
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 trouser pockets, pale, visibly
moist with perspiration, saying never a word, a very
wreck of soul and body; the other sat on the divan
close by the chimney, and attracted notice by a trench-
ant dissimilarity from all the rest. He was probably
upwards of forty, but he looked fully ten years older;
and Florizel thought he had never seen a man more
naturally hideous, nor one more ravaged by disease
and ruinous excitements. He was no more than skin
and bone, was partly paralysed, and wore spectacles
of such unusual power, that his eyes appeared through
the glasses greatly magnified and distorted in shape.
Except the Prince and the President, he was the only
NEW ARABIAN NIGHTS
person in the room who preserved the composure of
There was little decency among the members of the
club. Some boasted of the disgraceful actions, the con-
sequences of which had reduced them to seek refuge
in death ; and the others listened without disapproval.
There was a tacit understanding against moral judg-
ments; and whoever passed the club doors enjoyed
already some of the immunities of the tomb. They
drank to each other's memories, and to those of notable
suicides in the past. They compared and developed
their different views of death some declaring that it
was no more than blackness and cessation ; others full
of a hope that that very night they should be scaling
the stars and commercing 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 forth again to
" For my part," said a second, "I wish no more than
a bandage for my eyes and cotton for my ears. Only
they have no cotton thick enough in this world."
A third was for reading the mysteries of life in a future
state ; and a fourth professed that he would never have
joined the club, if he had not been induced to believe in
" I could not bear," said this remarkable suicide, "to
be descended from an ape."
Altogether, the Prince was disappointed by the bear-
ing and conversation of the members.
" It does not seem to me," he thought, " a matter for
so much disturbance. If a man has made up his mind
THE SUICIDE CLUB
to kill himself, let him do it, in God's name, like a gentle-
man. This flutter and big talk is out of place."
In the meanwhile Colonel Geraldine was a prey to the
blackest apprehensions; the club and its rules were still
a mystery, and he looked round 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 strong spectacles; and seeing him so exceedingly
tranquil, he besought the President, who was going in
and out of the room under a pressure of business, to
present him to the gentleman on the divan.
The functionary explained the needlessness of all such
formalities within the club, but nevertheless presented
Mr. Hammersmith to Mr. Malthus.
Mr. Malthus looked at the Colonel curiously, and then
requested him to take a seat upon his right.
"You are a new-comer," he said; "and wish infor-
mation ? You have come to the proper source. It is
two years since I first visited this charming club."
The Colonel breathed again. If Mr. Malthus had fre-
quented the place for two years there could be little
danger for the Prince in a single evening. But Geral-
dine was none the less astonished, and began to suspect
"What!" cried he, "two years! I thought but
indeed I see I have been made the subject of a pleas-
"By no means," replied Mr. Malthus mildly. "My
case is peculiar. I am not, properly speaking, a suicide
at all ; but, as it were, an honorary member. I rarely
visit the club twice in two months. My infirmity and
the kindness of the President have procured me these
NEW ARABIAN NIGHTS
little immunities, for which besides I pay at an advanced
rate. Even as it is my luck has been extraordinary."
"I am afraid," said the Colonel, "that I must ask you
to be more explicit. You must remember that I am
still most imperfectly acquainted with the rules of the
"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 the Presi-
dent : very fair, I believe, and clean, although, of course,
not luxurious; that could hardly be, considering the
exiguity (if I may so express myself) of the subscrip-
tion. And then the President's company is a delicacy
" Indeed! " cried Geraldine, "he had not greatly pre-
"Ah!" said Mr. Malthus, "you do not know the
man: the drollest fellow! What stories! What cyn-
icism ! He knows life to admiration and, between our-
selves, is probably the most corrupt rogue in Christ-
"And he also," asked the Colonel, " is a permanency
like yourself, if I may say so without offence?"
" Indeed, he is a permanency in a very different sense
from me," replied Mr. Malthus. "I have been gra-
ciously spared, but I must go at last. Now he never
plays. He shuffles and deals for the club, and makes
the necessary arrangements. That man, my dear Mr.
Hammersmith, is the very soul of ingenuity. For three
years he has pursued in London his useful and, I think
I may add, his artistic calling; and not so much as a
THE SUICIDE CLUB
whisper of suspicion has been once aroused. I believe
him myself to be inspired. You doubtless remember
the celebrated case, six months ago, of the gentleman
who was accidentally poisoned in a chemist's shop ?
That was one 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 one of 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 himself had not at all spoken in the tone
of one who is in love with death ; and he added hur-
" But I perceive I am still in the dark. You speak of
shuffling and dealing; pray for what end? And since
you seem rather unwilling to die than otherwise, I
must own that I cannot conceive what brings you here
"You say truly that you are in the dark," replied
Mr. Malthus with more animation. "Why, my dear
sir, this club is the temple of intoxication. If my en-
feebled health could support the excitement more often,
you may depend upon it I should be more often here.
It requires all the sense of duty engendered by a long
habit of ill-health and careful regimen, to keep me from
excess in this, which is, I may say, my last dissipation.
I have tried them all, sir," he went on, laying his hand
on Geraldine's arm, "all without exception, and I de-
clare to you, upon my honour, there is not one of them
that has not been grossly and untruthfully overrated.
People trifle with love. Now, I deny that love is a
NEW ARABIAN NIGHTS
strong passion. Fear is the strong passion ; it is with
fear that you must trifle, if you wish to taste the intense
joys of living. Envy me envy me, sir," he added
with a chuckle, " I am a coward! "
Geraldine could scarcely repress a movement of re-
pulsion for this deplorable wretch ; but he commanded
himself with an effort, and continued his inquiries.
" How, sir," he asked, " is the excitement so artfully
prolonged ? and where is there any element of uncer-
"I must tell you how the victim for every evening is
selected," returned Mr. Malthus; "and not only the vic-
tim, but another member, who is to be the instrument
in the club's hands, and death's high priest for that
"Good God!" said the Colonel, "do they then kill
"The trouble of suicide is removed in that way," re-
turned Malthus with a nod."
"Merciful Heavens!" ejaculated the Colonel, "and
may you may I may the my friend, I mean may
any of us be pitched upon this evening as the slayer of
another man's body and immortal spirit? Can such
things be possible among men born of women ? Oh !
infamy of infamies ! "
He was about to rise in his horror, when he caught
the Prince's eye. It was 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 is interesting, vogue la galere I follow
THE SUICIDE CLUB
Mr. Malthus had keenly enjoyed the Colonel's amaze-
ment and disgust. He had the vanity of wickedness;
and it pleased him to see another man give way to a
generous movement, while he felt himself, in his entire
corruption, superior to such emotions.
" You now, after your first moment of surprise," said
he, "are in a position to appreciate the delights of our
society. You can see how it combines the excitement
of a gaming-table, a duel, and a Roman amphitheatre.
The Pagans did well enough ; I cordially admire the re-
finement of their minds; but it has been reserved for a
Christian country to attain this extreme, this quintes-
sence, this absolute of poignancy. You will understand
how vapid are all amusements to a man who has ac-
quired a taste for this one. The game we play," he
continued, "is one of extreme simplicity. A full pack
but I perceive you are about to see the thing in prog-
ress. Will you lend me the help of your arm ? I am
unfortunately paralysed. "
Indeed, just as Mr. Malthus was beginning his de-
scription, another pair of folding-doors was thrown
open, and the whole club began to pass, not without
some hurry, into the adjoining room. It was similar
in every respect to the one from which it was entered,
but somewhat differently furnished. The centre was
occupied by a long green table, at which the President
sat shuffling a pack of cards with great particularity.
Even with the stick and the Colonel's arm, Mr. Malthus
walked with so much difficulty that everyone was seated
before this pair and the Prince, who had waited for them,
entered the apartment; and, in consequence, the three
took seats close together at the lower end of the board.
NEW ARABIAN NIGHTS
"It is a pack of fifty-two," whispered Mr. Malthus.
"Watch for the ace of spades, which is the sign of
death, and the ace of clubs, which designates the official
of the night. Happy, happy young men!" he added.
" You have good eyes, and can follow the game. Alas !
I cannot tell an ace 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 from the honorary member, and of the hor-
rible alternative that lay before them. The Prince was
conscious of a deadly chill and a contraction about his
heart; he swallowed with difficulty, and looked from
side to side like 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 he. " Let me see that you can play
like a gentleman for any stake, however serious."
And he looked about him, once more to all appear-
ance at his ease, although his heart beat thickly, and he
was conscious of an unpleasant heat in his bosom.
The members were all very quiet and intent; everyone
was pale, but none so pale as Mr. Malthus. His eyes
protruded ; his head kept nodding involuntarily upon his
spine; his hands found their way, one after the other,
to his mouth, where they made clutches at his tremu-
lous and ashen lips. It was plain that the honorary
member enjoyed his membership on very startling terms.
"Attention, gentlemen '."said the President.
And he began slowly dealing the cards about the table
THE SUICIDE CLUB
in the reverse direction, pausing until each man had
shown his card. Nearly everyone hesitated ; and some-
times you would see a player's fingers stumble more
than once before he could turn over the momentous slip
of pasteboard. As the Prince's turn drew nearer, he
was conscious of a growing and almost suffocating ex-
citement ; but he had somewhat of the gambler's nature,
and recognised almost with astonishment that there was
a degree of pleasure in his sensations. The nine of clubs
fell to his lot; the three of spades was dealt to Geraldine;
and the queen of hearts to Mr. Malthus, who was un-
able to suppress a sob of relief. The young man of the
cream tarts almost immediately afterwards turned over
the ace of clubs, and remained frozen with horror, the
card still resting on his finger; he had not come there to
kill, but to be killed; and the Prince, in his generous
sympathy with his position, almost forgot the peril that
still hung over himself and his friend.
The deal was coming round again, and still Death's
card had not come out. The players held their respira-
tion, and only breathed by gasps. The Prince received
another club; Geraldine had a diamond; but when Mr.
Malthus turned up his card a horrible noise, like that of
something breaking, issued from his mouth; and he
rose from his seat and sat down again, with no sign of
his paralysis. It was the ace of spades. The honorary
member had trifled once too often with his terrors.
Conversation broke out again almost at once. The
players relaxed their rigid attitudes, and began to rise
from the table and stroll back by twos and threes into
the smoking-room. The President stretched his arms
and yawned, like a man who had finished his day's work,
NEW ARABIAN NIGHTS
Bui Mr. Malthus sat in his place, with his head in his
hands, and his hands upon the table, drunk and motion-
less a thing stricken down.
The Prince and Geraldine made their escape at once.
In the cold night air their horror of what they had
witnessed was redoubled.
"Alas! " cried the Prince, " to be bound by an oath in
such a matter! to allow this wholesale trade in murder
to be continued with profit and impunity ! If I but dared
to forfeit my pledge ! "
"That is impossible for your Highness," replied the
Colonel, "whose honour 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 the adventures into which you follow me, not
only will I never pardon you, but what I believe will
much more sensibly affect you I should never forgive
"I receive your Highness's commands," replied the
Colonel. " Shall we go from this accursed spot ? "
"Yes," said the Prince. "Call a cab in Heaven's