S. Weir (Silas Weir) Mitchell.

The Guillotine club, and other stories online

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Copyright, 1907, 1909, 1910, by

Published October^









Alphonse, the Valet Frontispiece


M. Blanchelande 7

Captain Merton 14

I am rather an ascendant than a descendant . . 22

M. le Vicomte de Laisne 31

An archbishop in his full episcopal attire ... 41

En garde, Messieurs 81

The Colonel . . . 88

As he grew better, he talked to me of

my own life 149

That, he said, was of course hopeless . . . .156

Told her some of their genealogies were

more genial than logical 169

Susan, where was the silver kept ? 2OI

Good gracious ! 22O

Talk to me. Tell stories. Laugh.

Do anything 229



THOSE who have read "A Diplomatic Ad
venture" are aware that the valet Al-
phonse, who effectually aided in the historic
burglary, was, perhaps with reason, uneasy
as to the consequences. He finally decided to
emigrate to America, where, he said, his con
science would be more at rest, a moral inference
with which my friend and fellow-burglar,
Captain Merton, was much pleased, remarking
"that conscience was a name for several

It was, however, some months before Al-
phonse could persuade Mile. Marie to promise
to marry and go among a people who were just
then industriously killing one another. The
captain s wound was long since well. Certain
other matters in which he was interested were



prospering, but it was not until later that they
agreeably matured. After our brilliant suc
cess in baffling the police of Paris, I felt no de
sire to go in search of other adventures, and
hoped none would come in search of me. I
was sadly mistaken.

One morning while taking breakfast in my
little salon, I said to Alphonse: There must
be in Paris some curious things strangers do
not see. You have been on the police you
must know. I hear that there are thieves
clubs, or rather a thief club/

"I believe," said Alphonse, "that there is a
club of thieves ; but it is very exclusive, and un
less monsieur should qualify "


"No one can enter who has not been in the
chain-gang or committed some well-known


"Such as our burglary, Alphonse?"
"Not mine, mon Dieu! It may please mon
sieur to speak of it, but as for my humble self,
even when I go to confession I reserve certain
sins until I am in America. I never knew any



one who had seen this club, but " and he hesi
tated. "Shall I bring some more toast?"

I said no.

"Monsieur is neglecting the omelet. I made
it myself." He was as usual enjoying the im
portance a half-told story gives.

"I asked you a question. The omelet may

"Pardon, Monsieur, an omelet is one of the
things which cannot wait. I was about to be

"Since we stole those papers you are ab
surdly cautious. Go on."

"There are other clubs other strange clubs
more interesting."

"Such as?"

"Has monsieur ever heard of the Societe des
Ancetres ?"

"Of Ancestors? No. What is there curi
ous about that? It sounds commonplace."

Alphonse smiled. "For the members it is
the Society of the Guillotine. No one belongs
to it who is not of the family of some one who
was guillotined."



I questioned him eagerly.

"It is," he said, "of course registered, all
societies must be, but as it is quiet and meets
rarely, the police, when I was on the active
force, did not disturb it."

"I should like to see it," I said.

"Perhaps some of the gentlemen who dine
here to-day may be able further to inform mon
sieur. There is another club more closely

"Ah, and what is that?"

"It is the Club of Jacobins."

"What ! Here to-day in France ! Hardly."

"Yes, Monsieur. It is more of a secret so

"Then it is serious. Political, I presume."

"Probably. But it was a matter of rumor
when I was of the police that it contained per
sons no one would suspect of being in such com

"And so," I said, "it is let alone to avoid

"We did so conclude. But of course there is



gossip among the police. Monsieur may give
up all idea of seeing it."

I did not, and resolved to speak of both clubs
at dinner, which on this occasion was to be in
my own rooms.

I was on intimate terms with two of my din
ner guests, and especially with M. Blanche-
lande, a manufacturer, the owner of great
cloth mills near Lyons. Our United States
legation had secured for him certain contracts
with our government which had proved satis
factory to the war-office and profitable to him.
He was known to me as a quiet, cautious, mid
dle-aged man, who had married in the royalist
class, but who avoided politics, and collected
Palissy ware, snuff-boxes, and chatelaines.
He liked my dinners because of their freedom
and on account of my father s Madeira and cer
tain American luxuries.

He arrived early and said: "I have here,
for the future Mme. Greville, a gold chatelaine
said to have belonged to Mme. de Sevigne."

While I was admiring it and saying, "Mme.



Possible will adore it," Alphonse announced
the Count Andre- Joseph de la Motte and my
friend Captain Arthur Merton, U. S. Army.
Both men being army-officers, the count of
the Imperial Guard, as they entered they were
eagerly discussing the value of cavalry in war.
The count, a man of twenty-six, owed his at
tractiveness to perfect manners, a certain
sweetness of disposition, constant gaiety, and
an amiability rarely equaled. He was intelli
gent rather than intellectual, but not a person
of much force. I liked him.

"I asked your uncle M. Granson to dine," I
said to the count, "but he would not come."

The officer shrugged his shoulders and smil
ing returned: "I am not sorry. He is fast
breaking in mind and body and talks danger
ously much about republics and the desirability
of a return in France to Jacobin methods. It
is rather sad. What a charming chatelaine!"
he added, turning to Blanchelande.

As we stood admiring the gift, my last guest,
M. Varin, sous-preset of the Seine, joined us.
The prefect was one of the adventurous few



who come up out of the peasant class to forage
successfully in the capital. He looked about
him, seeing at a glance who were present, and
turned on me a rosy face, strong of feature,
but without distinction. An avocat of note, a
gay liver, a pronounced imperialist, and now a
man of wealth, he was too apt to speak of
having owed everything to himself, and had
the double pride of former poverty and
achieved riches. Nevertheless, he was inter
esting because of a successful career and be
cause of the type he represented.

Alphonse announced, "Monsieur is served,"
and we went into the little salon, chatting gaily.
There were no politics ; a word about our war
and Mexico, and by common consent we passed
to safer ground and talked theaters, actors, the
races, with at last a discussion of French dia
lects, a favorite study of mine. My Burgundy
was good, my father s Madeira highly ap
proved, and the imported cigar of the legation
such as Paris knew not. I had no least idea
that I was about to put a disturbing question,
what Captain Merton called a "queery." I



said lightly, during a pause in the talk, that I
was curious about the Parisian things stran
gers rarely see or never see.

"Such as?" asked the prefect, carelessly.
"I may be of service. There are odd fish and
unfathomed depths in this great turbulent sea
of Paris. What are you curious about?"

"The queer clubs," I replied. "I have heard
of two no, three."

"What are they?" asked the count.

"Oh, one I have heard about is, I am told,
the Society of Ancestors."

I was filling my glass as I spoke and, looking
up, saw that I had variously surprised my
guests. The count was glancing at Blanche-
lande, who had lifted his eyes from a lighted
match just long enough to entitle him to be
justified by surprise at my question or by a
burned finger in exclaiming, "Sacre!" and
then: "Some one has been amusing you,
mon cher Greville, with Parisian fables. The
Club of Ancestors! Everybody has ances

Captain Merton glanced from one to another




and, as he said later, felt the social temperature
fall. He became at once a partner in my curi

The prefect seemed to be unconcerned and
somewhat amused.

"It sounds very Chinese," he remarked.
"Ancestor-worship! Any folly is possible in

"But," asked the count, "who told you of the
club, Greville?"

I shook my head, and, smiling, declined to

Blanchelande laughed. "Tell us ignorant
Parisians about this club. Come, now, Cap
tain Merton, are you, too, in the secret?"

The captain shook his head, and smoked.

"Well," I said, not quite liking this unex
pected appearance of satirical desire to be en
lightened "well, I know nothing more except
that in private this body is fairly well known
as the Society of the Guillotine."

"Cheerful, that !" remarked Merton. "Must
some man or his ancestor have been guillo
tined as a condition of membership ?"



"Delightful!" cried Blanchelande. "Ask
the prefect."

That official said gravely: "I am not in the
way of knowing personally anything about it;
I was never guillotined. There is such a so
ciety, as some of you very well know"

"Oh, really, Prefect!" cried Blanchelande,

Either M. Varin did not see that the subject
was unwelcome or more likely had some ma
licious enjoyment in the discussion, for he
returned :

"Yes, although I am not what I may label
ancestral, I have heard of the club. For my
part, if I am anything, I am rather an ascen
dant than a descendant."

The young count looked at him with an ex
pression of grave surprise, but said nothing,
while the prefect continued, his face growing
sterner, "My people were still digging the
earth when our betters acquired title to this so
ciety by the accolade of the guillotine/ Mer-
ton looked up from the nut he was cracking.

"Accolade of the guillotine! I like that."


Blanchelande was evidently annoyed. "How
absurd, Prefect! Why not a society of the
hanged, or, rather, to be accurate, of their de
scendants ?"

"Why not ascendants? It seems a rise in
life/ laughed Merton.

"I might possibly have a claim," returned the
prefect, coolly. "The old noblesse took that
liberty at times with their peasants. The guil
lotine was the answer of the ages to the gallows
of the noble."

For a moment no one spoke. It was a
stanch Bonapartist who sat by me, well dressed,
prim, and decorated with the ribbon of the
Legion of Honor. It was a Jacobin in revolt
who thus broke out. De la Motte s constant
smile fell off like a dropped mask. Blanche-
landed well-governed, middle-aged face ex
pressed some faint disgust, for the intonation
of the prefect was, of a sudden, as that of a
peasant, rough, aggressive, and his manner
like a challenge.

To my relief, Merton broke into the mo
ment s emphasis of silence. "Thank heaven


that we in America have no claim to either

"You will not continue so fortunate/ said
the prefect. "You have not as yet history
enough. Just now you are doing fairly well,
but when you fail, as you of the North will,
some heads may tumble or even if Europe
permits you to win, which is unlikely."

Perhaps my Madeira had been too often hon
ored, for certainly the prefect had made him
self unpleasant to every one. I saw Merton
frown, and then, catching my warning look,
resume his cigar as I said :

"Ah, Monsieur le Prefet, how little you un
derstand us !"

"Let us drop politics," said Blanchelande.

"As you like," murmured the official. "Ex
cuse me, M. Greville."

"Oh, the future will answer you," I re
turned, laughing. The talk had come so near
to perils of insult that I was glad to move on
and away. By mishap I got at once upon still
thinner ice, for I said: "I seem at least with
my curiosity to have excited curiosity. I must



rest unsatisfied, I fear. But what of the other
society I have heard about?"

"What is that?" said De la Motte.

"The Jacobin Club."

"Delightful!" laughed the prefect. "Better
and better. I must tell the minister of police."

"A Jacobin Club to-day in Paris!" said
Blanchelande. "Well! well! Did ever you
hear of it, Prefect?"


I seemed unlucky, and made haste again to
shift the talk, quite sure that both clubs were
known to one or another of my guests, and
aware that my dinner had not been a complete

"Try this other Madeira," I said; "you may
like it."

"None of us, it seems, appears to know much
of your clubs," said the prefect, with a queer,
cynic smile; "but there certainly is a famous
club of thieves."

"Political, Prefect?" queried Merton in his
languid after-dinner way of saying dubious
things, pleased that social justice, kind to those



who wait, had given him the chance of retort.

The prefect smiled. "Merci, Monsieur

"Do they make ballads ?" said De la Motte.

"They may/ 5

"This club is said to be as old as Frangois
Villon," said Varin. "Whether or not they
still have poet thieves, I cannot say."

"Or thieving poets," added Merton. "They
all steal from one another."

I gladly welcomed this diversion of the talk,
and, soon after, all except Blanchelande went
away, gaily chaffing me about those wonderful

The count detained me a moment in the ante
chamber, and said, as we stood aside: "My
uncle would not dine with Blanchelande,
Greville. He is, as you know, a wild republi
can, and of late has been in a condition of senile
irritability and, I think I said so, imprudent to
the last degree."

"And so that was it. How strange ! Good
night," and I went back to Blanchelande.

As I sat down, he said: "Greville, do you




really want to hear more about those clubs?
Of course, as you must have gathered, we are
all cautious in our talk. In these days of sus
picion and espionage we rarely refer elsewhere
than in royalist circles to the Club of Ancestors,
and never except among members to the Guil
lotine Club. You could not know that, and
your curiosity was quite natural."

"Then all of you know of these organiza

"Oh, yes. There is a Club of Jacobins. I
should not be surprised to learn that Varin was
a member. We are less disposed to be secret.
You heard his denial."

"Yes ; and I was annoyed at the man s talk.
One does sometimes make a mistake in mixing
one s salad-dressing. That is Alphonse s
wisdom. M. Varin will not be in my next

Blanchelande laughed.

"The vinegar was certainly in excess."

"I may venture to ask if you are not of that
Guillotine Club?"

"Oh, yes; as are many French gentlemen.


While little is said of it, there is no nonsense,
no Freemason business. It is merely a very
exclusive society, designed to keep fresh certain


"I should like to see these clubs."
"That may be possible for ours, impossible
for the Jacobin. We now and then admit
strangers not Frenchmen, and we once pur
posely invited the chief of police. We have
every reason to be thought of as non-political ;
but nevertheless However, leave it with me,
and I will see what I can do to gratify your
curiosity. It might interest you."

I thanked him, and we began to speak of
other matters.



MY dinner was in October, and I heard
no more until January 15, when
Blanchelande called on me.

He said : "I have here an invitation for you
to be present at the annual meeting of the Guil
lotine Club. Pray read it."

The President and Council of the Society of An
cestors will be honoured by the presence of Monsieur
Greville on the 2ist of January at half-after nine
A. M. punctually.

"An unusual hour," said I.

"Yes; but there is a reason for it. I shall
call for you in time. I ought to say that you
will be so good as to wear evening dress, all
black, with black necktie."

Somewhat surprised at these directions, I
thanked him. As he was leaving, he said:
"You know, my friend, how much I owe to you,



and I like, therefore, to say that this special in
vitation is unusual. It has been twice asked
for in vain by but no matter. You will learn
at the meeting why I was able to secure it for
you. I am sure that you will be interested."

At nine, on January 2ist, I was dressed as
my friend had desired me to be. When Al-
phonse knew the evening before what I re
quired, to my astonishment he said: "It is for
the Royalist club. Monsieur should also have
black shirt-studs and black gloves. I ventured
to buy them this morning."

"Very good," I said. "Much obliged."
He evidently knew what was my errand, al
though of this I had said nothing. I had given
up being amazed at my valet. I now supposed
him to have known of the club through his po
lice affiliations.

"Monsieur will not want me until evening?"


"I have left the clothes for change, and the
dinner dress as usual."

"Thanks," said I. "You may go."

Presently I was with Blanchelande, and we


drove a long distance through the Rue Lafa
yette. We turned at last under an archway
into the courtyard of what seemed to have been
a large, two-story chateau. The street front
was occupied by shops. The courtyard space
seemed neglected, and there was a ruined foun
tain, long out of business. Two or more car
riages came in behind us. We went up the
steps under a crumbling scutcheon and through
the doorway. A servant in black received our
cards on a silver salver. As I looked up from
the plate I saw that the attendant was my own
valet, Alphonse. I was, of course, surprised,
but neither he nor I gave any sign of recog
nition, and followed by several gentlemen in
full mourning, we went up a wide stairway,
past a second servant, to whom again we gave
our cards.

Then we entered a large room where heavy
curtains excluded the daylight. Numerous
wax candles set in sconces afforded a scarce
sufficient illumination, so that it was some time
before I saw clearly enough to decide from the
cupids and roses of the ceiling that I was in the



ball-room of what had been a surburban
chateau of the time of the regency. There
was on one side a dais with tables and chairs
for the presiding officers, well lighted with
large candelabra. Behind the dais two crossed
flags draped with black bore the arms and
lilies of the Bourbons.

As we moved into view, all present rose and
bowed to Blanchelande, who, returning the
salute, said to me, "Sit here," and went on to
the dais, where he took the chair as presiding
officer. Several minutes passed in silence, and
then he said: "Close the doors. It is ten
o clock. There will be no more admissions."

During the interval of quiet, I had begun to
use my eyes, and saw in the first row of chairs
several whom I knew, and, not to my surprise,
the Count de la Motte. As I leaned forward
to look, I was sure that the recognition was

The absolute silence, the air of gravity, and
the dark figures of, as I guessed, three-score
gentlemen, set me to marveling. At this mo
ment Blanchelande rose. He said : "I hereby



declare open upon this 2ist day of January,
1864, the fiftieth annual meeting of the society
of gentlemen members of whose families died
by the guillotine. I have the honor to present
as a guest M. Greville of the American Lega
tion, invited for reasons satisfactory to the
council. Gentlemen, M. Greville."

The entire assembly rose, bowed, and re
mained standing. I returned the courtesy.
Blanchelande laid his watch on the table and
waited. The stillness was complete.

In a low but distinct voice the president said :
"As the grandson of Victor-Andre Blanche
lande, sometime governor of St. Domingo, the
first victim of the guillotine, on this 2ist day
of January I announce to you the approach of
the hour of the murder of Louis XVI, King of
France." He spoke slowly as he added, glanc
ing at his watch : "Now the King ascends the
scaffold." He paused. "Now the King
kneels. Now" and again he paused "it is
twenty minutes after ten o clock. The King is

There was a faint stir as of controlled emo-


tion, and I heard from all present the words,
"God rest his soul I" For a moment there was
silence and all resumed their seats.

Then Blanchelande said : "It is our custom
to call next the roll of members, who will re
spond for those of their family who died by the

"They will come forward in turn, and com
memorate by their presence and their answers
the unfailing remembrance by the gentlemen of
France of those of their order who died for the
cause of their rightful monarch. His Grace
the secretary will now honor us by calling the

What I next saw and heard impressed me as
few scenes in my life have done. On the right
of the president rose an archbishop in his full
episcopal attire. In a clear voice he read from
a roll in his hand, "M. Victor-Andre Blanche

The president stood up. "I answer for my
ancestor, the first victim of the guillotine, April

9> I793-"

As the roll went on with name after name




of the French noblesse, at each summons a man
came forward and gave the date of the death
and the name of some relative. I listened with
intense interest and something like awe to this
impressive ceremony so remote from the every
day life of gay Paris.

One old man murmured : "Le Marquis, la
Marquise, et Mile, de Beauchastel," and I
heard, "Father, mother, sister, guillotined on
the 3d, 5th, and gth of May, 1793." Then with
bent head he tottered away to his chair. And
the list went on, with titles old in story, with
names famous in history.

I heard De la Motte reply for his ancestor,
and then another and another, while in the
hush of the dimly lighted room the summoning
voice of the prelate rose, or fell to low notes as
something in the answers left him emotionally

At the last he read, "M. le Vicomte de
Laisne." An aged gentleman, very feeble and
evidently blind, came forward, leaning on the
arm of a younger man. His voice was scarce
audible as he said, "I appear for Mile, de Mar-



san, dead " he hesitated "dead on " he
seemed to have forgotten; it was painful
"dead on on the gth of the month Floreal,


I understood the low murmur of pity and
surprise. In this terrible recall of a day of
sorrow he had stumbled in his failing memory
upon the Revolutionary name of the month of
May. A gentleman beside me said in a whis
per: "He was to have married her. He is
nearly a century old." It seemed to bring very
near to me this tragic history.

As I sat and now and again caught sound
of the roar of traffic without, the complex note
of the great city, my thoughts were disturbed
by Blanchelande s voice. "It is now time/ he
said, "that we hold our private meeting and
receive the report of the council. I must ask,
therefore, that the guest who honors us with
his presence will withdraw." On this, again,
all present stood up, and bowing to the chair
and to the assembly, I left the room. At the
foot of the stair I received from Alphonse my



hat and coat, and returned home to change my

At breakfast next day I said : "I am much
obliged, Alphonse, by what you said to me in
regard to these clubs. It was well worth while
to see that ceremony; but how do you chance
to serve there ?"

"It was not chance, Monsieur. My grand
father was the servant of the Baron de Lor me,
and because he aided his master to escape was
guillotined. The meetings are rare, and while
I remain in France they will not interfere with
my service."

I reassured him, and then said: "But what
of the Jacobin Club? I should like to see it

Alphonse seemed disturbed. "They are not

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Online LibraryS. Weir (Silas Weir) MitchellThe Guillotine club, and other stories → online text (page 1 of 10)