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The Story of the Young Man with the Cream Tarts

During his residence in London, the accomplished Prince Florizel of
Bohemia gained the affection of all classes by the seduction of his
manner and by a well-considered generosity. He was a remarkable
man even by what was known of him; and that was but a small part of
what he actually did. Although of a placid temper in ordinary
circumstances, 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 eccentric 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 theatres, and when the season of the year was
unsuitable to those field sports in which he excelled all
competitors, 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 officer of a brave and
even temerarious disposition. He greeted the news with delight,
and hastened to make ready. Long practice and a varied
acquaintance of life had given him a singular facility in disguise;
he could adapt not only his face and bearing, but his voice and
almost his thoughts, to those of any rank, character, or nation;
and in this way he diverted attention from the Prince, and
sometimes gained admission for the pair into strange societies.
The civil authorities were never taken into the secret of these
adventures; the imperturbable courage of the one and the ready
invention and chivalrous devotion of the other had brought them
through a score of dangerous passes; and they grew in confidence as
time went on.

One evening in March they were driven by a sharp fall of sleet into
an Oyster Bar in the immediate neighbourhood of Leicester Square.
Colonel Geraldine was dressed and painted to represent a person
connected with the Press in reduced circumstances; while the Prince
had, as usual, travestied his appearance by the addition of false
whiskers and a pair of large adhesive eyebrows. These lent him a
shaggy and weather-beaten air, which, for one of his urbanity,
formed the most impenetrable disguise. Thus equipped, the
commander and his satellite sipped their brandy and soda in
security.

The bar was full of guests, male and female; but though more than
one of these offered to fall into talk with our adventurers, none
of them promised to grow interesting upon a nearer acquaintance.
There was nothing present but the lees of London and the
commonplace of disrespectability; and the Prince had already fallen
to yawning, and was beginning to grow weary of the whole excursion,
when the swing doors were pushed violently open, and a young man,
followed by a couple of commissionaires, entered the bar. Each of
the commissionaires carried a large dish of cream tarts under a
cover, which they at once removed; and the young man made the round
of the company, and pressed these confections upon every one's
acceptance with an exaggerated courtesy. Sometimes his offer was
laughingly accepted; sometimes it was firmly, or even harshly,
rejected. In these latter cases the new-comer always ate the tart
himself, with some more or less humorous commentary.

At last he accosted Prince Florizel.

"Sir," said he, with a profound obeisance, proffering the tart at
the same time between his thumb and forefinger, "will you so far
honour an entire stranger? I can answer for the quality of the
pastry, having eaten two dozen and three of them myself since five
o'clock."

"I am in the habit," replied the Prince, "of looking not so much to
the nature of a gift as to the spirit in which it is offered."

"The spirit, sir," returned the young man, with another bow, "is
one of mockery."

"Mockery?" repeated Florizel. "And whom do you propose to mock?"

"I am not here to expound my philosophy," replied the other, "but
to distribute these cream tarts. If I mention that I heartily
include myself in the ridicule of the transaction, I hope you will
consider honour satisfied and condescend. If not, you will
constrain me to eat my twenty-eighth, and I own to being weary of
the exercise."

"You touch me," said the Prince, "and I have all the will in the
world to rescue you from this dilemma, but upon one condition. If
my friend and I eat your cakes - for which we have neither of us
any natural inclination - we shall expect you to join us at supper
by way of recompense."

The young man seemed to reflect.

"I have still several dozen upon hand," he said at last; "and that
will make it necessary for me to visit several more bars before my
great affair is concluded. This will take some time; and if you
are hungry - "

The Prince interrupted him with a polite gesture.

"My friend and I will accompany you," he said; "for we have already
a deep interest in your very agreeable mode of passing an evening.
And now that the preliminaries of peace are settled, allow me to
sign the treaty for both."

And the Prince swallowed the tart with the best grace imaginable.

"It is delicious," said he.

"I perceive you are a connoisseur," replied the young man.

Colonel Geraldine likewise did honour to the pastry; and every one
in that bar having now either accepted or refused his delicacies,
the young man with the cream tarts led the way to another and
similar establishment. The two commissionaires, who seemed to have
grown accustomed to their absurd employment, followed immediately
after; and the Prince and the Colonel brought up the rear, arm in
arm, and smiling to each other as they went. In this order the
company visited two other taverns, where scenes were enacted of a
like nature to that already described - some refusing, some
accepting, the favours of this vagabond hospitality, and the young
man himself eating each rejected tart.

On leaving the third saloon the young man counted his store. There
were but nine remaining, three in one tray and six in the other.

"Gentlemen," said he, addressing himself to his two new followers,
"I am unwilling to delay your supper. I am positively sure you
must be hungry. I feel that I owe you a special consideration.
And on this great day for me, when I am closing a career of folly
by my most conspicuously silly action, I wish to behave handsomely
to all who give me countenance. Gentlemen, you shall wait no
longer. Although my constitution is shattered by previous
excesses, at the risk of my life I liquidate the suspensory
condition."

With these words he crushed the nine remaining tarts into his
mouth, and swallowed them at a single movement each. Then, turning
to the commissionaires, he gave them a couple of sovereigns.

"I have to thank you," said be, "for your extraordinary patience."

And he dismissed them with a bow apiece. For some seconds he stood
looking at the purse from which he had just paid his assistants,
then, with a laugh, he tossed it into the middle of the street, and
signified his readiness for supper.

In a small French restaurant in Soho, which had enjoyed an
exaggerated reputation for some little while, but had already begun
to be forgotten, and in a private room up two pair of stairs, the
three companions made a very elegant supper, and drank three or
four bottles of champagne, talking the while upon indifferent
subjects. The young man was fluent and gay, but he laughed louder
than was natural in a person of polite breeding; his hands trembled
violently, and his voice took sudden and surprising inflections,
which seemed to be independent of his will. The dessert had been
cleared away, and all three had lighted their cigars, when the
Prince addressed him in these words:-

"You will, I am sure, pardon my curiosity. What I have seen of you
has greatly pleased but even more puzzled me. And though I should
be loth to seem indiscreet, I must tell you that my friend and I
are persons very well worthy to be entrusted with a secret. We
have many of our own, which we are continually revealing to
improper ears. And if, as I suppose, your story is a silly one,
you need have no delicacy with us, who are two of the silliest men
in England. My name is Godall, Theophilus Godall; my friend is
Major Alfred Hammersmith - or at least, such is the name by which
he chooses to be known. We pass our lives entirely in the search
for extravagant adventures; and there is no extravagance with which
we are not capable of sympathy."

"I like you, Mr. Godall," returned the young man; "you inspire me
with a natural confidence; and I have not the slightest objection
to your friend the Major, whom I take to be a nobleman in
masquerade. At least, I am sure he is no soldier."

The Colonel smiled at this compliment to the perfection of his art;
and the young man went on in a more animated manner.

"There is every reason why I should not tell you my story. Perhaps
that is just the reason why I am going to do so. At least, you
seem so well prepared to hear a tale of silliness that I cannot
find it in my heart to disappoint you. My name, in spite of your
example, I shall keep to myself. My age is not essential to the
narrative. I am descended from my ancestors by ordinary
generation, and from them I inherited the very eligible human
tenement which I still occupy and a fortune of three hundred pounds
a year. I suppose they also handed on to me a hare-brain humour,
which it has been my chief delight to indulge. I received a good
education. I can play the violin nearly well enough to earn money
in the orchestra of a penny gaff, but not quite. The same remark
applies to the flute and the French horn. I learned enough of
whist to lose about a hundred a year at that scientific game. My
acquaintance with French was sufficient to enable me to squander
money in Paris with almost the same facility as in London. In
short, I am a person full of manly accomplishments. I have had
every sort of adventure, including a duel about nothing. Only two
months ago I met a young lady exactly suited to my taste in mind
and body; I found my heart melt; I saw that I had come upon my fate
at last, and was in the way to fall in love. But when I came to
reckon up what remained to me of my capital, I found it amounted to
something less than four hundred pounds! I ask you fairly - can a
man who respects himself fall in love on four hundred pounds? I
concluded, certainly not; left the presence of my charmer, and
slightly accelerating my usual rate of expenditure, came this
morning to my last eighty pounds. This I divided into two equal
parts; forty I reserved for a particular purpose; the remaining
forty I was to dissipate before the night. I have passed a very
entertaining day, and played many farces besides that of the cream
tarts which procured me the advantage of your acquaintance; for I
was determined, as I told you, to bring a foolish career to a still
more foolish conclusion; and when you saw me throw my purse into
the street, the forty pounds were at an end. Now you know me as
well as I know myself: a fool, but consistent in his folly; and,
as I will ask you to believe, neither a whimperer nor a coward."

From the whole tone of the young man's statement it was plain that
he harboured very bitter and contemptuous thoughts about himself.
His auditors were led to imagine that his love affair was nearer
his heart than he admitted, and that he had a design on his own
life. The farce of the cream tarts began to have very much the air
of a tragedy in disguise.

"Why, is this not odd," broke out Geraldine, giving a look to
Prince Florizel, "that we three fellows should have met by the
merest accident in so large a wilderness as London, and should be
so nearly in the same condition?"

"How?" cried the young man. "Are you, too, ruined? Is this supper
a folly like my cream tarts? Has the devil brought three of his
own together for a last carouse?"

"The devil, depend upon it, can sometimes do a very gentlemanly
thing," returned Prince Florizel; "and I am so much touched by this
coincidence, that, although we are not entirely in the same case, I
am going to put an end to the disparity. Let your heroic treatment
of the last cream tarts be my example."

So saying, the Prince drew out his purse and took from it a small
bundle of bank-notes.

"You see, I was a week or so behind you, but I mean to catch you up
and come neck and neck into the winning-post," he continued.
"This," laying one of the notes upon the table, "will suffice for
the bill. As for the rest - "

He tossed them into the fire, and they went up the chimney in a
single blaze.

The young man tried to catch his arm, but as the table was between
them his interference came too late.

"Unhappy man," he cried, "you should not have burned them all! You
should have kept forty pounds."

"Forty pounds!" repeated the Prince. "Why, in heaven's name, forty
pounds?"

"Why not eighty?" cried the Colonel; "for to my certain knowledge
there must have been a hundred in the bundle."

"It was only forty pounds he needed," said the young man gloomily.
"But without them there is no admission. The rule is strict.
Forty pounds for each. Accursed life, where a man cannot even die
without money!"

The Prince and the Colonel exchanged glances. "Explain yourself,"
said the latter. "I have still a pocket-book tolerably well lined,
and I need not say how readily I should share my wealth with
Godall. But I must know to what end: you must certainly tell us
what you mean."

The young man seemed to awaken; he looked uneasily from one to the
other, and his face flushed deeply.

"You are not fooling me?" he asked. "You are indeed ruined men
like me?"

"Indeed, I am for my part," replied the Colonel.

"And for mine," said the Prince, "I have given you proof. Who but
a ruined man would throw his notes into the fire? The action
speaks for itself."

"A ruined man - yes," returned the other suspiciously, "or else a
millionaire."

"Enough, sir," said the Prince; "I have said so, and I am not
accustomed to have my word remain in doubt."

"Ruined?" said the young man. "Are you ruined, like me? Are you,
after a life of indulgence, come to such a pass that you can only
indulge yourself in one thing more? Are you" - he kept lowering
his voice as he went on - "are you going to give yourselves that
last indulgence? Are you going to avoid the consequences of your
folly by the one infallible and easy path? Are you going to give
the slip to the sheriff's officers of conscience by the one open
door?"

Suddenly he broke off and attempted to laugh.

"Here is your health!" he cried, emptying his glass, "and good
night to you, my merry ruined men."

Colonel Geraldine caught him by the arm as he was about to rise.

"You lack confidence in us," he said, "and you are wrong. To all
your questions I make answer in the affirmative. But I am not so
timid, and can speak the Queen's English plainly. We too, like
yourself, have had enough of life, and are determined to die.
Sooner or later, alone or together, we meant to seek out death and
beard him where he lies ready. Since we have met you, and your
case is more pressing, let it be to-night - and at once - and, if
you will, all three together. Such a penniless trio," he cried,
"should go arm in arm into the halls of Pluto, and give each other
some countenance among the shades!"

Geraldine had hit exactly on the manners and intonations that
became the part he was playing. The Prince himself was disturbed,
and looked over at his confidant with a shade of doubt. As for the
young man, the flush came back darkly into his cheek, and his eyes
threw out a spark of light.

"You are the men for me!" he cried, with an almost terrible gaiety.
"Shake hands upon the bargain!" (his hand was cold and wet). "You
little know in what a company you will begin the march! You little
know in what a happy moment for yourselves you partook of my cream
tarts! I am only a unit, but I am a unit in an army. I know
Death's private door. I am one of his familiars, and can show you
into eternity without ceremony and yet without scandal."

They called upon him eagerly to explain his meaning.

"Can you muster eighty pounds between you?" he demanded.

Geraldine ostentatiously consulted his pocket-book, and replied in
the affirmative.

"Fortunate beings!" cried the young man. "Forty pounds is the
entry money of the Suicide Club."

"The Suicide Club," said the Prince, "why, what the devil is that?"

"Listen," said the young man; "this is the age of conveniences, and
I have to tell you of the last perfection of the sort. We have
affairs in different places; and hence railways were invented.
Railways separated us infallibly from our friends; and so
telegraphs were made that we might communicate speedier at great
distances. Even in hotels we have lifts to spare us a climb of
some hundred steps. Now, we know that life is only a stage to play
the fool upon as long as the part amuses us. There was one more
convenience lacking to modern comfort; a decent, easy way to quit
that stage; the back stairs to liberty; or, as I said this moment,
Death's private door. This, my two fellow-rebels, is supplied by
the Suicide Club. Do not suppose that you and I are alone, or even
exceptional in the highly reasonable desire that we profess. A
large number of our fellowmen, who have grown heartily sick of the
performance in which they are expected to join daily and all their
lives long, are only kept from flight by one or two considerations.
Some have families who would be shocked, or even blamed, if the
matter became public; others have a weakness at heart and recoil
from the circumstances of death. That is, to some extent, my own
experience. I cannot put a pistol to my head and draw the trigger;
for something stronger than myself withholds the act; and although
I loathe life, I have not strength enough in my body to take hold
of death and be done with it. For such as I, and for all who
desire to be out of the coil without posthumous scandal, the
Suicide Club has been inaugurated. How this has been managed, what
is its history, or what may be its ramifications in other lands, I
am myself uninformed; and what I know of its constitution, I am not
at liberty to communicate to you. To this extent, however, I am at
your service. If you are truly tired of life, I will introduce you
to-night to a meeting; and if not to-night, at least some time
within the week, you will be easily relieved of your existences.
It is now (consulting his watch) eleven; by half-past, at latest,
we must leave this place; so that you have half-an-hour before you
to consider my proposal. It is more serious than a cream tart," he
added, with a smile; "and I suspect more palatable."

"More serious, certainly," returned Colonel Geraldine; "and as it
is so much more so, will you allow me five minutes' speech in
private with my friend, Mr. Godall?"

"It is only fair," answered the young man. "If you will permit, I
will retire."

"You will be very obliging," said the Colonel.

As soon as the two were alone - "What," said Prince Florizel, "is
the use of this confabulation, Geraldine? I see you are flurried,
whereas my mind is very tranquilly made up. I will see the end of
this."

"Your Highness," said the Colonel, turning pale; "let me ask you to
consider the importance of your life, not only to your friends, but
to the public interest. 'If not to-night,' said this madman; but
supposing that to-night some irreparable disaster were to overtake
your Highness's person, what, let me ask you, what would be my
despair, and what the concern and disaster of a great nation?"

"I will see the end of this," repeated the Prince in his most
deliberate tones; "and have the kindness, Colonel Geraldine, to
remember and respect your word of honour as a gentleman. Under no
circumstances, recollect, nor without my special authority, are you
to betray the incognito under which I choose to go abroad. These
were my commands, which I now reiterate. And now," he added, "let
me ask you to call for the bill."

Colonel Geraldine bowed in submission; but he had a very white face
as he summoned the young man of the cream tarts, and issued his
directions to the waiter. The Prince preserved his undisturbed
demeanour, and described a Palais Royal farce to the young suicide
with great humour and gusto. He avoided the Colonel's appealing
looks without ostentation, and selected another cheroot with more
than usual care. Indeed, he was now the only man of the party who
kept any command over his nerves.

The bill was discharged, the Prince giving the whole change of the
note to the astonished waiter; and the three drove off in a four-
wheeler. They were not long upon the way before the cab stopped at
the entrance to a rather dark court. Here all descended.

After Geraldine had paid the fare, the young man turned, and
addressed Prince Florizel as follows:-

"It is still time, Mr. Godall, to make good your escape into
thraldom. And for you too, Major Hammersmith. Reflect well before
you take another step; and if your hearts say no - here are the
cross-roads."

"Lead on, sir," said the Prince. "I am not the man to go back from
a thing once said."

"Your coolness does me good," replied their guide. "I have never
seen any one so unmoved at this conjuncture; and yet you are not
the first whom I have escorted to this door. More than one of my
friends has preceded me, where I knew I must shortly follow. But
this is of no interest to you. Wait me here for only a few
moments; I shall return as soon as I have arranged the
preliminaries of your introduction."

And with that the young man, waving his hand to his companions,
turned into the court, entered a doorway and disappeared.

"Of all our follies," said Colonel Geraldine in a low voice, "this
is the wildest and most dangerous."

"I perfectly believe so," returned the Prince.

"We have still," pursued the Colonel, "a moment to ourselves. Let
me beseech your Highness to profit 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 remind you of the difference
in our stations. No more - no more," he added, seeing Geraldine
about to apologise, "you stand excused."

And he smoked placidly, leaning against a railing, until the young
man returned.

"Well," he asked, "has our reception been arranged?"

"Follow me," was the reply. "The President will see you in the
cabinet. And let me warn you to be frank in your answers. I have
stood your guarantee; but the club requires a searching inquiry
before admission; for the indiscretion of a single member would
lead to the dispersion of the whole society for ever."

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
twinkling, and were ready to follow their guide into the
President's cabinet.

There were no formidable obstacles to pass. The outer door stood
open; the door of the cabinet was ajar; and there, in a small but
very 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 folding 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 on pegs.

"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 grow amusing."

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 grey 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."

The Prince had remained quietly in his seat throughout 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 exceedingly 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 companion, 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 cashiered the other day for cheating at cards."

"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 it early."

"What is your reason for being tired of life?" pursued the
President.

"The same, as near as I can make out," answered the Prince;
"unadulterated laziness."

The President started. "D-n it," said he, "you must have 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-examined. The result was satisfactory; and the
President, after having booked a few details of each case, produced
a form of oath to be accepted. Nothing could be conceived 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
example with an air of great depression. Then the President
received the entry money; and without more ado, introduced the two
friends into the smoking-room of the Suicide Club.

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 imitation 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 champagne; 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 coolness 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 sometimes they let
their cigars go out; some talked well, but the conversation of
others was plainly the result of nervous tension, and was equally
without wit or purport. As each new bottle of champagne was
opened, there was a manifest improvement in gaiety. 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 trenchant 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 person
in the room who preserved the composure of ordinary life.

There was little decency among the members of the club. Some
boasted of the disgraceful actions, the consequences of which had
reduced them to seek refuge in death; and the others listened
without disapproval. There was a tacit understanding against moral
judgments; 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 commencing 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 freedom."

"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 Mr. Darwin.

"I could not bear," said this remarkable suicide, "to be descended
from an ape."

Altogether, the Prince was disappointed by the bearing 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 to kill himself, let
him do it, in God's name, like a gentleman. 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 information? 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 frequented the
place for two years there could be little danger for the Prince in
a single evening. But Geraldine was none the less astonished, and
began to suspect a mystification.

"What!" cried he, "two years! I thought - but indeed I see I have
been made the subject of a pleasantry."

"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
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 club."

"An ordinary member who comes here in search of death like
yourself," replied the paralytic, "returns every evening until
fortune favours him. He can even, if he is penniless, get board
and lodging from the President: 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
subscription. And then the President's company is a delicacy in
itself."

"Indeed!" cried Geraldine, "he had not greatly prepossessed me."

"Ah!" said Mr. Malthus, "you do not know the man: the drollest
fellow! What stories! What cynicism! He knows life to admiration
and, between ourselves, is probably the most corrupt rogue in
Christendom."

"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 hem graciously 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 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 chemists 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 hurriedly:

"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 at all."

"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 enfeebled 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 declare 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 strong
passion. Fear is the strong passion; it is with fear that you must
trifle, if you wish to taste the intensest joys of living. Envy me
- envy me, sir," he added with a chuckle, "I am a coward!"

Geraldine could scarcely repress a movement of repulsion 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 uncertainty?"

"I must tell you how the victim for every evening is selected,"
returned Mr. Malthus; "and not only the victim, but another member,
who is to be the instrument in the club's hands, and death's high
priest for that occasion."

"Good God!" said the Colonel, "do they then kill each other?"

"The trouble of suicide is removed in that way," returned 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 club!"

Mr. Malthus had keenly enjoyed the Colonel's amazement 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 refinement of their minds; but it has been reserved for a
Christian country to attain this extreme, this quintessence, this
absolute of poignancy. You will understand how vapid are all
amusements to a man who has acquired 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 progress.
Will you lend me the help of your arm? I am unfortunately
paralysed."

Indeed, just as Mr. Malthus was beginning his description, 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 every one 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.

"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 horrible 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 be. "Let me see that you can play like a gentleman
for any stake, however serious."

And he looked about him, once more to all appearance at his ease,
although his heart beat thickly, and he was conscious of an
unpleasant heat in his bosom. The members were all very quiet and
intent; every one 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 tremulous 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 in the
reverse direction, pausing until each man had shown his card.
Nearly every one hesitated; and sometimes 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 excitement; 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 unable 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 respiration, 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 has finished his
day's work. But Mr. Malthus sat in his place, with his head in his
hands, and his hands upon the table, drunk and motionless - a thing
stricken down.

The Prince and Geraldine made their escape at once. In the cold
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 myself."

"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 name, and let me
try to forget in slumber the memory of this night's disgrace."

But it was notable that he carefully read the name of the court
before he left it.

The next morning, as soon as the Prince was stirring, Colonel
Geraldine brought him a daily newspaper, with the following
paragraph marked:-

"MELANCHOLY ACCIDENT. - This morning, about two o'clock, Mr.
Bartholomew Malthus, of 16 Chepstow Place, Westbourne Grove, on his
way home from a party at a friend's house, fell over the upper
parapet in Trafalgar Square, fracturing his skull and breaking a
leg and an arm. Death was instantaneous. Mr. Malthus, accompanied
by a friend, was engaged in looking for a cab at the time of the
unfortunate occurrence. As Mr. Malthus was paralytic, it is
thought that his fall may have been occasioned by another seizure.
The unhappy gentleman was well known in the most respectable
circles, and his loss will be widely and deeply deplored."

"If ever a soul went straight to Hell," said Geraldine solemnly,
"it was that paralytic man's."

The Prince buried his face in his hands, and remained silent.

"I am almost rejoiced," continued the Colonel, "to know that he is
dead. But for our young man of the cream tarts I confess my heart
bleeds."

"Geraldine," said the Prince, raising his face, "that unhappy lad
was last night as innocent as you and I; and this morning the guilt
of blood is on his soul. When I think of the President, my heart
grows sick within me. I do not know how it shall be done, but I
shall have that scoundrel at my mercy as there is a God in heaven.
What an experience, what a lesson, was that game of cards!"

"One," said the Colonel, "never to be repeated."

The Prince remained so long without replying, that Geraldine grew
alarmed.

"You cannot mean to return," he said. "You have suffered too much
and seen too much horror already. The duties of your high position
forbid the repetition of the hazard."

"There is much in what you say," replied Prince Florizel, "and I am
not altogether pleased with my own determination. Alas! in the
clothes of the greatest potentate, what is there but a man? I
never felt my weakness more acutely than now, Geraldine, but it is
stronger than I. Can I cease to interest myself in the fortunes of
the unhappy young man who supped with us some hours ago? Can I
leave the President to follow his nefarious career unwatched? Can
I begin an adventure so entrancing, and not follow it to an end?
No, Geraldine: you ask of the Prince more than the man is able to
perform. To-night, once more, we take our places at the table of
the Suicide Club."

Colonel Geraldine fell upon his knees.

"Will your Highness take my life?" he cried. "It is his - his
freely; but do not, O do not! let him ask me to countenance so
terrible a risk."

"Colonel Geraldine," replied the Prince, with some haughtiness of
manner, "your life is absolutely your own. I only looked for
obedience; and when that is unwillingly rendered, I shall look for
that no longer. I add one word your: importunity in this affair
has been sufficient."

The Master of the Horse regained his feet at once.

"Your Highness," he said, "may I be excused in my attendance this
afternoon? I dare not, as an honourable man, venture a second time
into that fatal house until I have perfectly ordered my affairs.
Your Highness shall meet, I promise him, with no more opposition
from the most devoted and grateful of his servants."

"My dear Geraldine," returned Prince Florizel, "I always regret
when you oblige me to remember my rank. Dispose of your day as you
think fit, but be here before eleven in the same disguise."

The club, on this second evening, was not so fully attended; and
when Geraldine and the Prince arrived, there were not above half-a-
dozen persons in the smoking-room. His Highness took the President
aside and congratulated him warmly on the demise of Mr. Malthus.

"I like," he said, "to meet with capacity, and certainly find much
of it in you. Your profession is of a very delicate nature, but I
see you are well qualified to conduct it with success and secrecy."

The President was somewhat affected by these compliments from one
of his Highness's superior bearing. He acknowledged them almost
with humility.

"Poor Malthy!" he added, "I shall hardly know the club without him.
The most of my patrons are boys, sir, and poetical boys, who are
not much company for me. Not but what Malthy had some poetry, too;
but it was of a kind that I could understand."

"I can readily imagine you should find yourself in sympathy with
Mr. Malthus," returned the Prince. "He struck me as a man of a
very original disposition."

The young man of the cream tarts was in the room, but painfully
depressed and silent. His late companions sought in vain to lead
him into conversation.

"How bitterly I wish," he cried, "that I had never brought you to
this infamous abode! Begone, while you are clean-handed. If you
could have heard the old man scream as he fell, and the noise of
his bones upon the pavement! Wish me, if you have any kindness to
so fallen a being - wish the ace of spades for me to-night!"

A few more members dropped in as the evening went on, but the club
did not muster more than the devil's dozen when they took their
places at the table. The Prince was again conscious of a certain
joy in his alarms; but he was astonished to see Geraldine so much
more self-possessed than on the night before.

"It is extraordinary," thought the Prince, "that a will, made or
unmade, should so greatly influence a young man's spirit."

"Attention, gentlemen!" said the President, and he began to deal.

Three times the cards went all round the table, and neither of the
marked cards had yet fallen from his hand. The excitement as he
began the fourth distribution was overwhelming. There were just
cards enough to go once more entirely round. The Prince, who sat
second from the dealer's left, would receive, in the reverse mode
of dealing practised at the club, the second last card. The third
player turned up a black ace - it was the ace of clubs. The next
received a diamond, the next a heart, and so on; but the ace of
spades was still undelivered. At last, Geraldine, who sat upon the
Prince's left, turned his card; it was an ace, but the ace of
hearts.

When Prince Florizel saw his fate upon the table in front of him,
his heart stood still. He was a brave man, but the sweat poured
off his face. There were exactly fifty chances out of a hundred
that he was doomed. He reversed the card; it was the ace of
spades. A loud roaring filled his brain, and the table swam before
his eyes. He heard the player on his right break into a fit of
laughter that sounded between mirth and disappointment; he saw the
company rapidly dispersing, but his mind was full of other
thoughts. He recognised how foolish, how criminal, had been his
conduct. In perfect health, in the prime of his years, the heir to
a throne, he had gambled away his future and that of a brave and
loyal country. "God," he cried, "God forgive me!" And with that,
the confusion of his senses passed away, and he regained his self-
possession in a moment.

To his surprise Geraldine had disappeared. There was no one in the
card-room but his destined butcher consulting with the President,
and the young man of the cream tarts, who slipped up to the Prince,
and whispered in his ear:-

"I would give a million, if I had it, for your luck."

His Highness could not help reflecting, as the young man departed,
that he would have sold his opportunity for a much more moderate
sum.

The whispered conference now came to an end. The holder of the ace
of clubs left the room with a look of intelligence, and the
President, approaching the unfortunate Prince, proffered him his
hand.

"I am pleased to have met you, sir," said he, "and pleased to have
been in a position to do you this trifling service. At least, you
cannot complain of delay. On the second evening - what a stroke of
luck!"

The Prince endeavoured in vain to articulate something in response,
but his mouth was dry and his tongue seemed paralysed.

"You feel a little sickish?" asked the President, with some show of
solicitude. "Most gentlemen do. Will you take a little brandy?"

The Prince signified in the affirmative, and the other immediately
filled some of the spirit into a tumbler.

"Poor old Malthy!" ejaculated the President, as the Prince drained
the glass. "He drank near upon a pint, and little enough good it
seemed to do him!"

"I am more amenable to treatment," said the Prince, a good deal
revived. "I am my own man again at once, as you perceive. And so,
let me ask you, what are my directions?"

"You will proceed along the Strand in the direction of the City,
and on the left-hand pavement, until you meet the gentleman who has
just left the room. He will continue your instructions, and him
you will have the kindness to obey; the authority of the club is
vested in his person for the night. And now," added the President,
"I wish you a pleasant walk."

Florizel acknowledged the salutation rather awkwardly, and took his
leave. He passed through the smoking-room, where the bulk of the
players were still consuming champagne, some of which he had
himself ordered and paid for; and he was surprised to find himself
cursing them in his heart. He put on his hat and greatcoat in the
cabinet, and selected his umbrella from a corner. The familiarity
of these acts, and the thought that he was about them for the last
time, betrayed him into a fit of laughter which sounded
unpleasantly in his own ears. He conceived a reluctance to leave
the cabinet, and turned instead to the window. The sight of the
lamps and the darkness recalled him to himself.

"Come, come, I must be a man," he thought, "and tear myself away."

At the corner of Box Court three men fell upon Prince Florizel and
he was unceremoniously thrust into a carriage, which at once drove
rapidly away. There was already an occupant.

"Will your Highness pardon my zeal?" said a well known voice.

The Prince threw himself upon the Colonel's neck in a passion of
relief.

"How can I ever thank you?" he cried. "And how was this effected?"

Although he had been willing to march upon his doom, he was
overjoyed to yield to friendly violence, and return once more to
life and hope.

"You can thank me effectually enough," replied the Colonel, "by
avoiding all such dangers in the future. And as for your second
question, all has been managed by the simplest means. I arranged
this afternoon with a celebrated detective. Secrecy has been
promised and paid for. Your own servants have been principally
engaged in the affair. The house in Box Court has been surrounded
since nightfall, and this, which is one of your own carriages, has
been awaiting you for nearly an hour."

"And the miserable creature who was to have slain me - what of
him?" inquired the Prince.

"He was pinioned as he left the club," replied the Colonel, "and
now awaits your sentence at the Palace, where he will soon be
joined by his accomplices."

"Geraldine," said the Prince, "you have saved me against my
explicit orders, and you have done well. I owe you not only my
life, but a lesson; and I should be unworthy of my rank if I did
not show myself grateful to my teacher. Let it be yours to choose
the manner."

There was a pause, during which the carriage continued to speed
through the streets, and the two men were each buried in his own
reflections. The silence was broken by Colonel Geraldine.

"Your Highness," said he, "has by this time a considerable body of
prisoners. There is at least one criminal among the number to whom
justice should be dealt. Our oath forbids us all recourse to law;
and discretion would forbid it equally if the oath were loosened.
May I inquire your Highness's intention?"

"It is decided," answered Florizel; "the President must fall in
duel. It only remains to choose his adversary."

"Your Highness has permitted me to name my own recompense," said
the Colonel. "Will he permit me to ask the appointment of my
brother? It is an honourable post, but I dare assure your Highness
that the lad will acquit himself with credit."

"You ask me an ungracious favour," said the Prince, "but I must
refuse you nothing."

The Colonel kissed his hand with the greatest affection; and at
that moment the carriage rolled under the archway of the Prince's
splendid residence.

An hour after, Florizel in his official robes, and covered with all
the orders of Bohemia, received the members of the Suicide Club.

"Foolish and wicked men," said he, "as many of you as have been
driven into this strait by the lack of fortune shall receive
employment and remuneration from my officers. Those who suffer
under a sense of guilt must have recourse to a higher and more
generous Potentate than I. I feel pity for all of you, deeper than
you can imagine; to-morrow you shall tell me your stories; and as
you answer more frankly, I shall be the more able to remedy your
misfortunes. As for you," he added, turning to the President, "I
should only offend a person of your parts by any offer of
assistance; but I have instead a piece of diversion to propose to
you. Here," laying his hand on the shoulder of Colonel Geraldine's
young brother, "is an officer of mine who desires to make a little
tour upon the Continent; and I ask you, as a favour, to accompany
him on this excursion. Do you," he went on, changing his tone, "do
you shoot well with the pistol? Because you may have need of that
accomplishment. When two men go travelling together, it is best to
be prepared for all. Let me add that, if by any chance you should
lose young Mr. Geraldine upon the way, I shall always have another
member of my household to place at your disposal; and I am known,
Mr. President, to have long eyesight, and as long an arm."

With these words, said with much sternness, the Prince concluded
his address. Next morning the members of the club were suitably
provided for by his munificence, and the President set forth upon
his travels, under the supervision of Mr. Geraldine, and a pair of
faithful and adroit lackeys, well trained in the Prince's
household. Not content with this, discreet agents were put in
possession of the house in Box Court, and all letters or visitors
for the Suicide Club or its officials were to be examined by Prince
Florizel in person.

Here (says my Arabian author) ends THE STORY OF THE YOUNG MAN WITH
THE CREAM TARTS, who is now a comfortable householder in Wigmore
Street, Cavendish Square. The number, for obvious reasons, I
suppress. Those who care to pursue the adventures of Prince
Florizel and the President of the Suicide Club, may read the
HISTORY OF THE PHYSICIAN AND THE SARATOGA TRUNK.


Robert Louis Stevenson