Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1749
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...
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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 to the club the next evening in order to destroy it, hoping in that way to help the young man work through his guilt for the death of Malthus.
In the evening’s hand, however, the worst happens: The prince is dealt the ace of spades and prepares to meet his doom because of his word of honor to follow the rules of the club. Following the instructions of the president, he sets out, only to be captured and stolen away by a gang of apparent thugs, who turn out to be his own servants under the direction of Geraldine. The colonel tells the prince that all has been taken care of, and the two return to Box Court, the location of the club, where the prince metes out justice. He invites the president to take a trip to the Continent with the younger brother of Geraldine—an implicit sentence of execution because the younger Geraldine is under instructions to dispose of the man by duel. With that, the first and most elaborate of the stories concludes.
The second part, “The Story of the Physician and the Saratoga Trunk,” continues the story from a somewhat different perspective. Mr. Silas Q. Scuddamore, a wealthy New Englander visiting Paris, is tricked by a series of strange coincidences into keeping an assignation with a woman who never appears at the rendezvous. When he returns to his lodging, he is horrified to find on his bed the body of a man recently killed. In his horror and fright, he attracts the attention of a neighbor, Dr. Noel, who promises to help him out of the obvious difficulty that the body represents. The next day the doctor departs for a while to make arrangements while Scuddamore keeps grisly watch over the body.
When the doctor returns, he tells Scuddamore that he can transport the body to England and dispose of it there, the transportation being possible because Dr. Noel has arranged to convey his luggage through diplomatic channels, where it will not be opened at customs inspection, and the disposal of the body being possible because of Dr. Noel’s connections in England. Scuddamore is too much in a state of shock to notice how quickly and easily this serious problem is solved; in this period of shock, his only real response is a feeling of disgust when the doctor tells him that the body must be transported in the Saratoga trunk that stands in his room and that Scuddamore himself must load the body into the trunk.
Scuddamore discovers the next day that he will be traveling in the suite of Prince Florizel. Despite great anxiety, he arrives in England without trouble and tries to take the Saratoga trunk to the address that Dr. Noel has given him; the prince’s servants, who drive him to the address, evidence surprise when he instructs them to go to Box Court. Returning to his hotel and made anxious by a man who appears to be trailing him, he keeps the trunk with him overnight, then tries again to deliver it. He is immensely surprised when the occupant at Box Court turns out to be the prince himself, who has taken over these quarters as he tries to dismantle the damage done by the club. The prince is even more surprised, however, when he opens the trunk to find the dead body of Geraldine’s brother.
After hearing Scuddamore’s account, the prince explains that Dr. Noel is an erstwhile colleague of the president and that the entire coincidence seems providential in the matter of punishing the wicked. Recognizing his own implicit guilt in the death of the younger Geraldine, the prince announces that he will even more steadfastly undertake to bring the president to vengeance, on which note this second section closes.
The final part, “The Adventure of the Hansom Cab,” introduces Lieutenant Brackenbury Rich, a young war hero who has returned to England after his service in India. Feeling out of place on his arrival in London, the lieutenant sets out to explore the streets of the city and to familiarize himself with a scene from which he has long been absent. A sudden downpour of rain drives him into the shelter of an unoccupied cab, and he instructs the driver to drive about as he will, for lack of a better destination. The driver immediately sets off to a large and well-lighted house, where a party of gentlemen is being entertained. Assured that he will be well received, the lieutenant finds there a group of strangers who nevertheless have in common an air of independence and self-sufficiency. When only a half-dozen guests remain, the host declares his purpose: He is looking for courageous and iron-willed men who will assist him in a matter of honor. Four of those remaining decline to participate and retire, leaving the lieutenant and Major O’Rooke, another war hero, to accompany the host.
As the three make their way to the rendezvous for the duel, the host—who is in fact Colonel Geraldine—explains that the masquerade at the house was a device by which he hoped to acquire the services of the most courageous and most honorable men. On arrival at a large but dilapidated house in extensive grounds, they are introduced to their host’s principal, whom the major recognizes as Prince Florizel. The prince explains that he is now about to conclude the dangerous business of destroying the president of the Suicide Club, with the assistance of Geraldine and Dr. Noel, who is also present. The two war heroes are to serve as seconds in the duel between the prince and the president, who attempts to ambush the prince but is forestalled by the party. The principals and seconds in the duel retire to the grounds, leaving Geraldine and Dr. Noel to wait anxiously. The prince and the heroes soon return with word that the president has been dispatched, and thus the story ends.