smoking where he was, until he heard the trap thrown
open over his head.
THE SUICIDE CLUB
" Here we are, sir," said the driver.
" Here ! " repeated Brackenbury. ' ' Where ? "
"You told me to take you where I pleased, sir," re-
turned the man with a chuckle, "and here we are."
It struck Brackenbury that the voice was wonderfully
smooth and courteous for a man in so inferior a position ;
he remembered the speed at which he had been driven ;
and now it occurred to him that the hansom was more
luxuriously appointed than the common run of public
"I must ask you to explain," said he. "Do you
mean to turn me out into the rain ? My good man, I
suspect the choice is mine."
"The choice is certainly yours," replied the driver;
"but when I tell you all, I believe I know how a gen-
tleman of your figure will decide. There is a gentle-
men's party in this house. I do not know whether the
master be a stranger to London and without acquain-
tances of his own ; or whether he is a man of odd notions.
But certainly I was hired to kidnap single gentlemen in
evening dress, as many as I pleased, but military offi-
cers by preference. You have simply to go in and say
that Mr. Morris invited you."
"Are you Mr. Morris?" inquired the Lieutenant.
" Oh, no," replied the cabman. "Mr. Morris is the
person of the house."
" It is not a common way of collecting guests," said
Brackenbury; "but an eccentric man might very well
indulge the whim without any intention to offend.
And suppose that I refuse Mr. Morris's invitation," he
went on, "what then ?"
"My orders are to drive you back where I took you
NEW ARABIAN NIGHTS
from," replied the man, "and set out to look for others
up to midnight. Those who have no fancy for such an
adventure, Mr. Morris said, were not the guests for him."
These words decided the Lieutenant on the spot.
' ' After all, " he reflected, as he descended from the han-
som, ' ' I have not had long to wait for my adventure. "
He had hardly found footing on the side-walk, and
was still feeling in his pocket for the fare, when the cab
swung about and drove off by the way it came at the
former break-neck velocity. Brackenbury shouted after
the man, who paid no heed, and continued to drive
away ; but the sound of his voice was overheard in the
house, the door was again thrown open, emitting a
flood of light upon the garden, and a servant ran down
to meet him holding an umbrella.
"The cabman has been paid," observed the servant
in a very civil tone; and he proceeded to escort Brack-
enbury along the path and up the steps. In the hall
several other attendants relieved him of his hat, cane,
and paletot, gave him a ticket with a number in return,
and politely hurried him up a stair adorned with tropical
flowers, to the door of an apartment on the first story.
Here a grave butler inquired his name, and announcing
"Lieutenant Brackenbury Rich," ushered him into the
drawing-room of the house.
A young man, slender and singularly handsome, came
forward and greeted him with an air at once courtly and
affectionate. Hundreds of candles, of the finest wax, lit
up a room that was perfumed, like the staircase, with a
profusion of rare and beautiful flowering shrubs. A
side-table was loaded with tempting viands. Several
servants went to and fro with fruits and goblets of cham-
THE SUICIDE CLUB
pagne. The company was perhaps sixteen in number,
all men, few beyond the prime of life, and with hardly
an exception, of a dashing and capable exterior. They
were divided into two groups, one about a roulette
board, and the other surrounding a table at which one
of their number held a bank of baccarat.
"I see," thought Brackenbury, "I am in a private
gambling saloon, and the cabman was a tout."
His eye had embraced the details, and his mind formed
the conclusion, while his host was still holding him
by the hand ; and to him his looks returned from this
rapid survey. At a second view Mr. Morris surprised
him still more than on the first. The easy elegance
of his manners, the distinction, amiability, and courage
that appeared upon his features, fitted very ill with the
Lieutenant's preconceptions on the subject of the pro-
prietor of a hell ; and the tone of his conversation seemed
to mark him out for a man of position and merit.
Brackenbury found he had an instinctive liking for his
entertainer; and though he chid himself for the weak-
ness he was unable to resist a sort of friendly attraction
for Mr. Morris's person and character.
"I have heard of you, Lieutenant Rich," said Mr.
Morris, lowering his tone; "and believe me I am grati-
fied to make your acquaintance. Your looks accord
with the reputation that has preceded you from India.
And if you will forget for a while the irregularity of
your presentation in my house, I shall feel it not only
an honour, but genuine pleasure besides. A man who
makes a mouthful of barbarian cavaliers," he added
with a laugh, "should not be appalled by a breach of
etiquette, however serious."
NEW ARABIAN NIGHTS
And he led him towards the sideboard and pressed him
to partake of some refreshments.
"Upon my word," the Lieutenant reflected, "this is
one of the pleasantest fellows and, I do not doubt, one
of the most agreeable societies in London."
He partook of some champagne, which he found ex-
cellent; and observing that many of the company were
already smoking, he lit one of his own Manillas, and
strolled up to the roulette board, where he sometimes
made a stake and sometimes looked on smilingly on
the fortune of others. It was while he was thus idling
that he became aware of a sharp scrutiny to which the
whole of the guests were subjected. Mr. Morris went
here and there, ostensibly busied on hospitable concerns;
but he had ever a shrewd glance at disposal ; not a man
of the party escaped his sudden, searching looks; he
took stock of the bearing of heavy losers, he valued the
amount of the stakes, he paused behind couples who
were deep in conversation ; and, in a word, there was
hardly a characteristic of anyone present but he seemed
to catch and make a note of it. Brackenbury began to
wonder if this were indeed a gambling hell : it had so
much the air of a private inquisition. He followed Mr.
Morris in all his movements ; and although the man had
a ready smile, he seemed to perceive, as it were under
a mask, a haggard, careworn, and preoccupied spirit.
The fellows around him laughed and made their game ;
but Brackenbury had lost interest in the guests.
"This Morris," thought he, "is no idler in the room.
Some deep purpose inspires him; let it be mine to
Now and then Mr. Morris would call one of his visi-
THE SUICIDE CLUB
tors aside; and after a brief colloquy in an ante-room,
he would return alone, and the visitors in question re-
appeared no more. After a certain number of repeti-
tions, this performance excited Brackenbury's curiosity
to a high degree. He determined to be at the bottom
of this minor mystery at once; and strolling into the
ante-room, found a deep window recess concealed by
curtains of the fashionable green. Here he hurriedly
ensconced himself; nor had he to wait long before the
sound of steps and voices drew near him from the prin-
cipal apartment. Peering through the division, he saw
Mr. Morris escorting a fat and ruddy personage, with
somewhat the look of a commercial traveller, whom
Brackenbury had already remarked for his coarse laugh
and under-bred behaviour at the table. The pair halted
immediately before the window, so that Brackenbury
lost not a word of the following discourse:
" I beg you a thousand pardons ! " began Mr. Morris,
with the most conciliatory manner; "and, if I appear
rude, I am sure you will readily forgive me. In a place
so great as London accidents must continually happen;
and the best that we can hope is to remedy them with
as small delay as possible. I will not deny that I fear
you have made a mistake and honoured my poor house
by inadvertence; for, to speak openly, I cannot at all
remember your appearance. Let me put the question
without unnecessary circumlocution between gentle-
men of honour a word will suffice Under whose roof
do you suppose yourself to be ? "
"That of Mr. Morris," replied the other, with a pro-
digious display of confusion, which had been visibly
growing upon him throughout the last few words.
NEW ARABIAN NIGHTS
"Mr. John or Mr. James Morris ?" inquired the host.
"I really cannot tell you," returned the unfortunate
guest. " I am not personally acquainted with the gen-
tlemen, any more than I am with yourself."
"I see," said Mr. Morris. "There is another person
of the same name farther down the street ; and I have
no doubt the policeman will be able to supply you with
his number. Believe me, I felicitate myself on the mis-
understanding which has procured me the pleasure of
your company for so long; and let me express a hope
that we may meet again upon a more regular footing.
Meantime, I would not for the world detain you longer
from your friends. John," he added, raising his voice,
" will you see that the gentleman finds his great-coat ? "
And with the most agreeable air Mr. Morris escorted
his visitor as far as the ante-room door, where he left
him under conduct of the butler. As he passed the
window, on his return to the drawing-room, Bracken-
bury could hear him utter a profound sigh, as though
his mind was loaded with a great anxiety, and his nerves
already fatigued with the task on which he was en-
For perhaps an hour the hansoms kept arriving with
such frequency, that Mr. Morris had to receive a new
guest for every old one that he sent away, and the com-
pany preserved its number undiminished. But towards
the end of that time the arrivals grew few and far be-
tween, and at length ceased entirely, while the process
of elimination was continued with unimpaired activity.
The drawing-room began to look empty: the baccarat
was discontinued for lack of a banker; more than one
person said good-night of his own accord, and was
THE SUICIDE CLUB
suffered to depart without expostulation: and in the
meanwhile Mr. Morris redoubled in agreeable attentions
to those who stayed behind. He went from group to
group and from person to person with looks of the
readiest sympathy and the most pertinent and pleasing
talk; he was not so much like a host as like a hostess,
and there was a feminine coquetry and condescension
in his manner which charmed the hearts of all.
As the guests grew thinner, Lieutenant Rich strolled
for a moment out of the drawing-room into the hall in
quest of fresher air. But he had no sooner passed the
threshold of the ante-chamber than he was brought to
a dead halt by a discovery of the most surprising na-
ture. The flowering shrubs had disappeared from the
staircase; three large furniture wagons stood before
the garden gate; the servants were busy dismantling
the house upon all sides; and some of them had already
donned their great-coats and were preparing to depart.
It was like the end of a country ball, where everything
has been supplied by contract. Brackenbury had in-
deed some matter for reflection. First, the guests, who
were no real guests after all, had been dismissed; and
now the servants, who could hardly be genuine servants,
were actively dispersing.
" Was the whole establishment a sham ?" he asked
himself. "The mushroom of a single night which
should disappear before morning?"
Watching a favourable opportunity, Brackenbury
dashed upstairs to the higher regions of the house. It
was as he had expected. He ran from room to room,
and saw not a stick of furniture nor so much as a pic-
ture on the walls. Although the house had been painted
NEW ARABIAN NIGHTS
and papered, it was not only uninhabited at present, but
plainly had never been inhabited at all. The young offi-
cer remembered with astonishment its specious, settled,
and hospitable air on his arrival. It was only at a pro-
digious cost that the imposture could have been carried
out upon so great a scale.
Who, then, was Mr. Morris ? What was his inten-
tion in thus playing the householder for a single night
in the remote west of London ? And why did he col-
lect his visitors at hazard from the streets ?
Brackenbury remembered that he had already delayed
too long, and hastened to join the company. Many had
left during his absence ; and counting the Lieutenant and
his host, there were not more than five persons in the
drawing-room recently so thronged. Mr. Morris
greeted him, as he re-entered the apartment, with a
smile, and immediately rose to his feet.
"It is now time, gentlemen," said he, "to explain my
purpose in decoying you from your amusements. I trust
you did not find the evening hang very dully on your
hands ; but my object, I will confess it, was not to en-
tertain your leisure, but to help myself in an unfortunate
necessity. You are all gentlemen, "he continued, "your
appearance does you that much justice, and I ask for no
better security. Hence, I speak it without concealment,
I ask you to render me a dangerous and delicate service ;
dangerous because you may run the hazard of your lives,
and delicate because I must ask an absolute discretion
upon all that you shall see or hear. From an utter
stranger the request is almost comically extravagant; I
am well aware of this; and I would add at once, if
there be anyone present who has heard enough, if there
THE SUICIDE CLUB
be one among the party who recoils from a dangerous
confidence and a piece of Quixotic devotion to he knows
not whom here is my hand ready, and I shall wish
him good-night and God-speed, with all the sincerity
in the world."
A very tall, black man, with a heavy stoop, immedi-
ately responded to this appeal.
"I commend your frankness, sir," said he; "and,
for my part, I go. I make no reflections; but I cannot
deny that you fill me with suspicious thoughts. I go
myself, as I say; and perhaps you will think I have no
right to add words to my example."
" On the contrary," replied Mr. Morris, " I am obliged
to you for all you say. It would be impossible to ex-
aggerate the gravity of my proposal. "
' " Well, gentlemen, what do you say ?" said the tall
man, addressing the others. " We have had our even-
ing's frolic ; shall we go homeward peaceably in a body ?
You will think well of my suggestion in the morning,
when you see the sun again in innocence and safety."
The speaker pronounced the last words with an in-
tonation which added to their force ; and his face wore
a singular expression, full of gravity and significance.
Another of the company rose hastily, and, with some
appearance of alarm, prepared to take his leave. There
were only two who held their ground, Brackenbury and
an old red-nosed cavalry Major ; but these two preserved
a nonchalant demeanour, and, beyond a look of intelli-
gence which they rapidly exchanged, appeared entirely
foreign to the discussion that had just been terminated.
Mr. Morris conducted the deserters as far as the door,
which he closed upon their heels; then he turned round
NEW ARABIAN NIGHTS
disclosing a countenance of mingled relief and anima-
tion, and addressed the two officers as follows :
"I have chosen my men like Joshua in the Bible,"
said Mr. Morris, "and I now believe I have the pick of
London. Your appearance pleased my hansom cab-
men ; then it delighted me ; I have watched your be-
haviour in a strange company, and under the most un-
usual circumstances: I have studied how you played
and how you bore your losses ; lastly, I have put you to
the test of a staggering announcement, and you received
it like an invitation to dinner. It is not for nothing," he
cried, " that I have been for years the companion and the
pupil of the bravest and wisest potentate in Europe."
"At the affair of Bunderchang," observed the Major,
"I asked for twelve volunteers, and every trooper in
the ranks replied to my appeal. But a gaming party is
not the same thing as a regiment under fire. You may
be pleased, I suppose, to have found two, and two who
will not fail you at a push. As for the pair who ran
away, I count them among the most pitiful hounds I
ever met with. Lieutenant Rich," he added, address-
ing Brackenbury, "1 have heard much of you of late;
and I cannot doubt but you have also heard of me. I
am Major O'Rooke."
And the veteran tendered his hand, which was red
and tremulous, to the young Lieutenant.
"Who has not?" answered Brackenbury.
"When this little matter is settled," said Mr. Morris,
"you will think I have sufficiently rewarded you; for I
could offer neither a more valuable service than to make
him acquainted with the other."
"And now," said Major O'Rooke, "is it a duel ?"
THE SUICIDE CLUB
"A duel after a fashion," replied Mr. Morris, "a duel
with unknown and dangerous enemies, and, as I gravely
fear, a duel to the death. I must ask you," he contin-
ued, ' ' to call me Morris no longer : call me, if you please,
Hammersmith; my real name, as well as that of another
person to whom 1 hope to present you before long, you
will gratify me by not asking and not seeking to dis-
cover for yourselves. Three days ago the person of
whom I speak disappeared suddenly from home; and,
until this morning, I received no hint of his situation.
You will fancy my alarm when I tell you that he is en-
gaged upon a work of private justice. Bound by an
unhappy oath, too lightly sworn, he finds it necessary,
without the help of law, to rid the earth of an insidious
and bloody villain. Already two of our friends, and
one of them my own born brother, have perished in the
enterprise. He himself, or I am much deceived, is taken
in the same fatal toils. But at least he still lives and
still hopes, as this billet sufficiently proves."
And the speaker, no other than Colonel Geraldine,
proffered a letter, thus conceived :
" Major Hammersmith, On Wednesday, at 3 A. M.,
you will be admitted by the small door to the gardens
of Rochester House, Regent's Park, by a man who is
entirely in my interest. I must request you not to fail
me by a second. Pray bring my case of swords, and,
if you can find them, one or two gentlemen of conduct
and discretion to whom my person is unknown. My
name must not be used in this affair.
"From his wisdom alone, if he had no other title,"
pursued Colonel Geraldine, when the others had each
NEW ARABIAN NIGHTS
satisfied his curiosity, "my friend is a man whose di-
rections should implicitly be followed. I need not
tell you, therefore, that I have not so much as visited
the neighbourhood of Rochester House; and that 1 am
still as wholly in the dark as either of yourselves as to
the nature of my friend's dilemma. I betook myself, as
soon as I had received this order, to a furnishing con-
tractor, and, in a few hours, the house in which we
now are had assumed its late air of festival. My scheme
was at least original; and I am far from regretting an
action which has procured me the services of Major
O'Rooke and Lieutenant Brackenbury Rich. But the
servants in the street will have a strange awakening.
The house which this evening was full of lights and vis-
itors they will find uninhabited and for sale to-morrow
morning. Thus even the most serious concerns," added
the Colonel, " have a merry side."
"And let us add a merry ending," said Brackenbury.
The Colonel consulted his watch.
"It is now hard on two," he said. "We have an
hour before us, and a swift cab is at the door. Tell me
if I may count upon your help."
"During a long life," replied Major O'Rooke, "I
never took back my hand from anything, nor so much
as hedged a bet."
Brackenbury signified his readiness in the most be-
coming terms ; and after they had drunk a glass or two
of wine, the Colonel gave each of them a loaded re-
volver, and the three mounted into the cab and drove
off for the address in question.
Rochester House was a magnificent residence on the
banks of the canal. The large extent of the garden
THE SUICIDE CLUB
isolated it in an unusual degree from the annoyances of
neighbourhood. It seemed the pare aux cerfs of some
great nobleman or millionaire. As far as could be seen
from the street, there was not a glimmer of light in an>
of the numerous windows of the mansion; and the
place had a look of neglect, as though the master had
been long from home.
The cab was discharged, and the three gentlemen
were not long in discovering the small door, which
was a sort of postern in a lane between two garden
walls. It still wanted ten or fifteen minutes of the
appointed time; the rain fell heavily, and the adventu-
rers sheltered themselves below some pendent ivy, and
spoke in low tones of the approaching trial.
Suddenly Geraldine raised his finger to command
silence, and all three bent their hearing to the ut-
most. Through the continuous noise of the rain, the
steps and voices of two men became audible from the
other side of the wall ; and, as they drew nearer,
Brackenbury, whose sense of hearing was remarkably
acute, could even distinguish some fragments of their
" Is the grave dug ? " asked one.
"It is," replied the other; "behind the laurel hedge.
When the job is done, we can cover it with a pile of
The first speaker laughed, and the sound of his merri-
ment was shocking to the listeners on the other side.
" In an hour from now," he said.
And by the sounds of the steps it was obvious that
the pair had separated, and were proceeding in contrary
NEW ARABIAN NIGHTS
Almost immediately after the postern door was cau-
tiously opened, a white face was protruded into the
lane, and a hand was seen beckoning to the watchers.
In dead silence the three passed the door, which was
immediately locked behind them, and followed their
guide through several garden alleys to the kitchen en-
trance of the house. A single candle burned in the great
paved kitchen, which was destitute of the customary fur-
niture ; and as the party proceeded to ascend from thence
by a flight of winding stairs, a prodigious noise of rats
testified still more plainly to the dilapidation of the
Their conductor preceded them, carrying the candle.
He was a lean man, much bent, but still agile ; and he
turned from time to time and admonished silence and
caution by his gestures. Colonel Geraldine followed
on his heels, the case of swords under one arm, and a
pistol ready in the other. Brackenbury's heart beat
thickly. He perceived that they were still in time; but
he judged from the alacrity of the old man that the hour
of action must be near at hand ; the circumstances of
this adventure were so obscure and menacing, the place
seemed so well chosen for the darkest acts, that an older
man than Brackenbury might have been pardoned a
measure of emotion as he closed the procession up the
At the top the guide threw open a door and ushered
the three officers before him into a small apartment
lighted by a smoky lamp and the glow of a modest fire.
At the chimney corner sat a man in the early prime of
life, and of a stout but courtly and commanding appear-
ance. His attitude and expression were those of the
THE SUICIDE CLUB
most unmoved composure; he was smoking a cheroot
with much enjoyment and deliberation, and on a table by
his elbow stood a long glass of some effervescing bever-
age, which diffused an agreeable odour through the room.
"Welcome," said he, extending his hand to Colonel
Geraldine. " I knew I might count on your exactitude."
"On my devotion," replied the Colonel, with a bow.
" Present me to your friends," continued the first; and,
when that ceremony had been performed, " I wish, gen-
tlemen, " he added, with the most exquisite affability,
"that I could offer you a more cheerful programme; it
is ungracious to inaugurate an acquaintance upon serious
affairs; but the compulsion of events is stronger than
the obligations of good-fellowship. I hope and believe
you will be able to forgive me this unpleasant evening;
and for men of your stamp it will be enough to know
that you are conferring a considerable favour."
" Your Highness," said the Major, "must pardon my
bluntness. I am unable to hide what I know. For some
time back I have suspected Major Hammersmith, but
Mr. Godall is unmistakable. To seek two men in Lon-
don unacquainted with Prince Florizel of Bohemia was
to ask too much at Fortune's hands."
" Prince Florizel! " cried Brackenbury in amazement.