Three related stories make up the larger plot of “The Suicide Club,” although each of the separately titled stories might be understood if read alone. The larger plot concerns the work of the hero, Prince Florizel of Bohemia, and his assistant, Colonel Geraldine, in pursuing and finally destroying the unnamed president of the Suicide Club, an organization that provides desperate men with ways to escape unhappy or disastrous lives without the scandal of overt self-destruction.
The first part, “The Story of the Young Man with the Cream Tarts,” establishes the personalities of the major characters and the nature of the club. The prince and the colonel, both of whom are visiting London and are interested in life’s more eccentric opportunities, are seeking adventures in an oyster bar near Leicester Square. Among the pair’s many attributes is the capacity to disguise their true characters so as to meet and talk with all classes of people—the prince being less proficient in disguise than his assistant because the nobility of his nature makes it impossible to hide its quality altogether.
As they are enjoying the bar’s fare, the young man enters, accompanied by two men carrying trays of cream tarts, a rich pastry. The young man proceeds to offer tarts to each of the patrons in the bar, including the Bohemian pair; by the rules of the sport he has invented, he eats any tart that is rejected by the person to whom he first offers it. The prince and Geraldine accept his offer on the condition that the young man join them for supper after the remainder of the tarts are consumed. The young man agrees, and the three soon find themselves in the private dining room of a Soho restaurant.
After a pleasant meal, the prince and Geraldine persuade the young man to explain his unusual sport with the cream tarts. He tells of an insufficient fortune, of an excessive love that could not be returned, and, finally, of bankruptcy. Playing to the young man’s apparently morbid concern, the Bohemian pair succeed in discovering that he is actually preparing himself to die by suicide, although he tells them that he is not going to commit the act himself. Intrigued and alarmed, they convince the young man that they are in the same circumstances themselves, and they persuade him to take them along as he visits the club where the matter will be taken care of.
Once they arrive, the prince and Geraldine are admitted as members only after an elaborate interview with the president, which includes the signing of a solemn pledge not to violate the secrecy of the club or to fail in completing the tasks assigned to them as members. Afterward, they enter the club room to find what appears to be an ordinary party of men talking, drinking, and playing at cards, although with a particularly feverish air. Many of the members are quite young or in the prime of life, but the attention of the prince is arrested by a crippled man of considerable age, Mr. Malthus, who, although apparently suffering from many afflictions, is nevertheless intensely interested in the affairs of all the members. After a period of conversation and gaming, doors at the end of the room are opened and the company retires to another room containing a large table at which the president sits, carefully shuffling a deck of cards.
As soon as the members take their seats around the table, the prince and Geraldine find out how the business of the club is transacted: by dealing, one at a time to each of the members, the whole pack of cards until the ace of clubs and the ace of spades have been turned over. The man receiving the spade will die that night at the hands of the man receiving the club, who will follow the plans laid out by the president. Both Bohemians are suddenly concerned that, should chance turn against them, the prince might be put in a position that would be intolerable, for either his honor or his life would suffer. As it happens, however, the spade falls to Mr. Malthus—who almost collapses when he sees his fate—and the club to the young man with the cream tarts. The prince and Geraldine extricate themselves as quickly as possible and depart, discovering in the papers the next day the news of Mr. Malthus’s death by accident in Trafalgar Square. The prince decides to return...
(The entire section is 1749 words.)