Dover Book

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    I thoroughly enjoyed this book! It is actually a trilogy, but all three stories are related—a continuation of the plot laid out at the beginning.
    It was first published in 1878 in London Magazine, then in 1882 in a collection of stories called New Arabian Nights. I think one of the reasons I enjoyed it so much is that it reminds me of one of my all-time favorite books—The Three Impostors by Arthur Machen, published in 1895. It has that same subtly humorous sense of the macabre, an air of mystery, and people who are not who they pretend to be. There is also a certain occult-like ritual involved, and innocent bystanders who get involved much deeper than is good for them, simply because they enjoy the adventure and risky excitement. And lastly, as in Machen's book, the plot of each story at first does not appear to interconnect with the others.
    In Story of the Young Man with the Cream Tarts, we first meet our two adventurers, Prince Florizel of Bohemia, and his Master of the Horse, Colonel Geraldine while they are living in London. For entertainment, they often go out to places not suitable for royalty to seek adventure, traveling incognito, of course, as Theophilus Godall and Major Alfred Hammersmith. One sleety evening, disguised in typical shaggy whiskers and eyebrows, the two slip into an Oyster Bar. Presently, a young man and his helpers come in with a tray of cream tarts, offering them to everyone. When someone refuses, the young man eats that one himself. After making their rounds, they go off to the next establishment, and the Prince and his companion are so intrigued, they follow him.
    They learn that the young man is down to his bottom dollar, and, unable to marry the woman of his choosing, he is having this last fling before it all ends. The three dine together, and he tells them of a secret society where men go who wish to end their lives. The prince and Geraldine pretend that they, too, are fed up with life and financially ruined, so they request an invitation. Well, at least the prince does. Geraldine is a bit more reluctant, yet is almost obligated to follow his friend.
    The prince should have listened to Geraldine's cautions, because what they discovered was more terrible than they imagined. First, the President interviewed them to insure they were sincere. Of course, Florizel and Geraldine kept their stories straight, and, as they were experienced in adventuring incognito, their true life situation was left undiscovered.
    The membership all seemed to be mostly young men, except one crippled elderly gentleman, Mr. Malthus, who had been a member much longer than the rest. But it seemed his time had come. After the initial socializing, the men were led to a room, where they were dealt cards, a genuine deck of 52, laid out until each card had been used. And here is where the terror struck home: The one who received the ace of spade received the card of death, and the ace of clubs went to the killer. Malthus received the death card, and the cream tart man was his designated official. After the death for the evening was established, the two men stayed to receive their instructions on how it would be accomplished. The next morning, Geraldine and Florizel read in the paper how Malthus had fallen over a parapet the evening before, and died of a fractured skull.
    One would think that the prince and his friend would never frequent this evil place again, and surely that was Geraldine's choice, but the prince insisted they return. Only this time, the prince receives the death card. Fortunately, Geraldine had made advance arrangements and a carriage whisks them away before anyone can proceed with the gruesome task. However, because an agreement had been broken, on the part of the two, that was made upon their acceptance into membership, the prince, being a gentleman, said that a duel must take place. Geraldine suggests his young, strong and brave brother, who readily accepts.
    Next, in Story of the Physician and the Saratoga Trunk, an American staying in Paris is unwittingly drawn into the evil plot. He is timid, cowardly, naïve, and a bit arrogant—all the necessary qualities to make him a scapegoat. He is seduced by a woman professing love, who draws him out of his apartment. When he returns, he finds a dead body in his bed. But the doctor next door is there to help in an instant, and they put the body in his Saratoga trunk. Arrangements are made to travel with the body in the prince's caravan, but unfortunately, the body is not that of the President, as was planned.
    In The Adventure of the Hansom Cab, the trilogy comes to its conclusion, so I will say no more and let you be surprised. This book, despite its title and subject matter, is not the deep horror of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It is light and entertaining, and a short and easy read!

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