More New Arabian Nights: The Dynamiter (written in collaboration with RLS’s wife Fanny) returns to the adventures of Prince Florizel, who was first introduced in RLS’s story “New Arabian Nights” (1878).
Prince Florizel calls himself Theophilus Godall and owns the finest cigar shop in London. Here, Paul Somerset, Edward Challoner and Harry Desborough, all without money or prospects, discuss what their future will hold. Somerset reads an item in the Standard which offers a reward for any information about a man seen in the park wearing a sealskin great-coat. Inspired, Somerset suggests that “the next adventure that offers itself, embrace it in with both your arms, whatever it looks like, grimy or romantic; grasp it” (pp. 13-14). The men agree, and promise to later relay their adventures to Godall.
The story then describes the encounters that the men have with the evil (but ineffectual) dynamiter and terrorist, Zero, and his followers, Clara Luxmore and M’Guire.
The first adventure starts when Challoner sees Clara and two men fleeing from a smoke-filled and evil-smelling house (later we learn this is one of Zero’s failed bombs). When Challoner bumps into Clara later, he reluctantly offers to help her.
Clara tells him her (false) history. She says her name is Asenath Fonblanque and she has lately escaped from a sinister branch of the Mormons, the Destroying Angels. Her parents having been killed by the group, she was supposed to marry Dr Grierson’s son. However, she discovered that Dr Grierson had invented a potion which would restore his youth so that he could marry her himself. When the potion exploded, she escaped.
Highly sceptical, Challoner agrees to help her by taking some money and a letter to her cousin in Glasgow. When he arrives, he finds there is no cousin, only M’Guire. M’Guire slips away and Challoner reads the letter. In it, Clara writes that the clockwork in the bomb failed again and the police have likely discovered their base. At this point, the police arrive and Challoner escapes, considerably humiliated by his adventure.
Somerset’s adventure begins when a brougham pulls up and an old and eccentric woman, Mrs Luxmore, asks him to get in and to join her for dinner.
She tells him her history, including her marriage to the wealthy Henry Luxmore and the birth of their child, Clara Luxmore. Against her mother’s wishes, Clara has run away from home to join a radical group (Zero’s dynamiters).
Mrs Luxmore explains that she has had misfortunes with the tenants in the mansions she rents out, particularly the incident involving her tenant Prince Florizel. Suspicious of his activities, Mrs Luxmore entered the house one night to find one man dead, and another who had attempted to poison himself. She and the prince revived the man and learned that he and his now dead companion had been ordered to assassinate the prince by a group opposed to royalty (Zero’s dynamiters). The two had been so charmed by the prince, however, they were unable to complete their task.
Wishing to travel the continent, Mrs Luxmore asks Somerset to take on her mansion, telling him he can do whatever he likes with it. Somerset agrees, takes up painting, and lets some of the rooms to a mysterious Mr Jones. Both Clara and M’Guire visit Jones, but otherwise he is rarely seen.
One day, Somerset finds the sealskin overcoat mentioned in the Standard and concludes Jones is the man described in the article. Jones confesses that he is Zero, the famous dynamiter. Somerset is horrified and despite displaying repugnance, cannot shake off Zero’s friendship.
After hearing from Clara of another failure with the clockwork and the explosives, Zero believes all of the batch of dynamite is useless. For his own amusement, he sets bombs off in the house, and even packs one in his bag. Terrified, Somerset hurries them out of the house which, to Zero’s surprise and delight, explodes. Desiring more than ever to rid himself of Zero’s company, Somerset gives him his train fare. Just then, Zero’s bag explodes and Zero along with it.
Meanwhile, Desborough lodges in Bloomsbury. His rooms overlook those of a beautiful Cuban, Senorita Theresa Valdevia (Clara Luxmore in disguise).
Desborough, immediately attracted to her, listens to her (again false) history. Her father Valdevia, of Spanish royal descent, married her mother, an African slave, in Cuba. Valdevia was also a jewel-dealer in financial trouble and under threat of arrest. To save his fortunes, he and Theresa hid his jewels in a swamp. The swamp, however, was fatal to anyone not of African descent, and Valdevia died shortly after entering it.
Theresa then tricked Mr Caulder, who led the party to arrest his father, into coming into the swamp for the jewels. He also died, and Theresa was able to escape.
Now hiding from Cuban spies, she asks and receives Desborough’s help. He takes a brown box, which contains everything connecting her to Cuba, to an Irish steamer. When he arrives, Clara tells him to remove the box back to their lodgings. Later, in a fit of conscience, she tells Desborough the whole truth: she is Clara Luxmore, a dynamiter, and the box is a bomb. They hear a click and he flings her to the wall, but the explosion fails.
At the end of the story, the three men return to the cigar shop. They learn that M’Guire is dead (Godall suggests from fright). Challoner and Somerset are deeply embarrassed to see Clara, who is now married to Desborough. Indeed, all of the men have fared well: Challoner has inherited from a Great Aunt in Wales, Somerset is now a sales assistant in Godall’s shop, and Godall himself arranges for Mrs Luxmore to give Clara and Desborough £1000 a year.
Quotations from More New Arabian Nights: The Dynamiter, The Works of Robert Louis Stevenson, Swanston edn, vol v (London: Chatto and Windus, 1911).
Image courtesy of Rare Books and Special Collections, Thomas Cooper Library, University of South Carolina