New Arabian Nights, 1882


New Arabian Nights Contents

(1878) i)”The Suicide Club” [Story of the Young Man with the Cream Tarts, Story of the Physician and the Saratoga Trunk, The Adventure of the Hansom Cabs]

ii)”The Rajah’s Diamond” [Story of the Bandbox, Story of the Young Man in Holy Orders, Story of the House with the Green Blinds, The Adventure of Prince Florizel and a Detective]

“The Pavilion on the Links” (1880)

“A Lodging for the Night: A Story of Francis Villon” (1877)

“The Sire de Maletroit’s Door” (1878)

“Providence and the Guitar” (1878)

Summaries

“New Arabian Nights” (1878)

“New Arabian Nights” is broken down into two major sections, “The Suicide Club” and “The Rajah’s Diamond”. The story details the adventures of Prince Florizel of Bohemia and his Master of the Horse, Colonel Geraldine. RLS returns to these characters in More New Arabian Nights: The Dynamiter (1885).

The Suicide Club

Prince Florizel of Bohemia and Colonel Geraldine disguise themselves for an evening on the town in London. They meet a young man distributing cream tarts to all the patrons of a bar out of a “a spirit of mockery” (p. 7) for his own desperate and absurd existence.

Florizel and Geraldine assure him they are equally depressed and he invites them to join The Suicide Club, where they learn that each night a fatal hand of cards is dealt. Whoever receives the ace of clubs must kill the recipient of the ace of spades; patrons can thus end their life without the scandal associated with suicide. RLS describes the breathtaking game, including the reactions of the recipients – the relief of those who are reprieved and the horror of the man who is dealt the fatal card.

Intending to stop the President of the club from profiting on death, the Prince returns to the club the next night. Unfortunately, he receives the ace of spades and leaves the club in despair. Luckily, Geraldine has secretly organized private detectives to arrest the members of the Suicide Club.

To punish the President for using others’ unhappiness for his own gain, the Prince appoints Geraldine’s brother to duel with the President. The Prince then gives money to the members of the club and we learn that the man of the cream tarts is now a “comfortable householder” (p. 37).

The story then turns to Silas Q Scuddamore, a naïve young New Englander. Scuddamore takes rooms in Paris where the disgraced Dr Noel also lives. A hole in Scuddamore’s room allows him to voyeuristically spy on Madame Zephyrine, an attractive woman of uncertain profession.

One day she catches him peeping but does not seem to mind and Scuddamore sees her in discussion with a strange man – who we know to be the President of The Suicide Club.

Later, led on a wild goose chase by the deceptive invitation of a lady admirer, Scuddamore is tricked into leaving his room. When he returns he finds a dead body (who we know to be Geraldine’s brother).

Dr Noel (who we imagine is involved with the Suicide Club) now offers to help Scuddamore get rid of the body. He advises Scuddamore to seek the aid of the Prince. First, Scuddamore places the body into a Saratoga Trunk and sends it with the Prince’s belongings (which are never searched by customs) to London. When the Prince looks in the trunk he is deeply saddened to find the body of Geraldine’s brother and realizes that the President is behind it all.

Meanwhile, Silas returns to the States and the author tells us he is now a sheriff.

Finally, the story turns to Lieutenant Brackenbury Rich who has just returned from the Indian Hill Wars.

Brackenbury is stopped by a cab and asks the cabbie to take him where he pleases. He is dropped off at a mysterious party. He soon learns that the whole evening has been contrived so that Geraldine (the party’s host in disguise) could find the bravest and most worthy gentlemen for a dangerous mission.

Of those selected, Brackenbury and a Major O’Rooke volunteer for the mission. These two follow Geraldine to act as seconds in a duel in which the Prince at last slays the President. Dr Noel, once the President’s accomplice and now his enemy, then buries the body.

The Rajah’s Diamond

The effeminate and hapless Harry Hartley is Lady Clara Vandeleur’s servant. She orders him to carry her bandbox (hat box), which is filled with mysterious contents, to a secret address. Her husband, Major-General Sir Thomas Vandeleur is suspicious, particularly because of the enormous debts Lady Vandeleur’s accrued.

He demands that Harry give him the box but Harry panics and runs away. Pursued by Vandeleur, Harry escapes with the help of Prudence the maid. He vaults over a garden wall, the bandbox breaks and to Harry’s astonishment, jewels spill out everywhere. Raeburn, the landlord, forces Harry into the house and takes half of the jewels for himself. Harry returns to the Vandeleurs with what remains, is fired, but later inherits money and marries Prudence.

Meanwhile, Reverend Rolles, a tenant in Raeburn’s house, finds the most valuable of the Vandeleur’s jewels – the Rajah’s Diamond, the sixth largest diamond in the world. He decides to learn to cut diamonds so that he can sell the jewel without being suspected of theft.

Rolles later learns that the diamond hunter, John Vandeleur (brother of Major Vandeleur) is searching for the Rajah’s Diamond. When Rolles gets on the train, he realizes Vandeleur is also on board. Both spy on one another, and they decide to go into partnership over the diamond. Vandeleur will find a buyer and they will share the profit.

Now we are introduced to Francis Scrymgeour, a reliable clerk. He learns that he has been adopted and that his real father will offer him £500 a year on the condition that he go to Paris and attend the theatre on a particular day. He must also marry a woman of his father’s choosing.

Francis accepts the conditions and picks up the ticket in Paris. He learns that the man who left the ticket has white hair and a sabre cut across his face. Francis finds the man – John Vandeleur – in heated discussion with Rolles. He also hears Vandeleur make arrangements for Rolles to come to his house at 7:00 on Tuesday.

Assuming Vandeleur is his father, Francis follows him. He then takes lodgings overlooking his house so that he can spy on him. Francis sees a young woman, Miss Vandeleur, who he reasons must be either his sister or the woman intended as his bride. He later goes to the theatre at the appointed time and the Vandeleurs sit in a box opposite, but leave before he can speak to them.

On Tuesday, he sees Rolles arrive as agreed and Vandeleur secretly giving him a sleeping draught. Vandeleur then takes the diamond and gives it to Miss Vandeleur (Francis sees the transaction but does not know what Vandeleur has given to his daughter). Francis now intervenes, pledging to help his father out of any difficulty. He also discovers that Major Vandeleur is his father, and not John.

Furthermore, Miss Vandeleur, his cousin, is his intended bride, but she wishes to know him better before marrying him. When he asks for a token of her affection, she slips something into his hand. She warns him that he must run and not look at it until he is far from the house.

Francis runs to a café, where he realizes Miss Vandeleur has given him the diamond. He tells the Prince (who is also in the café) his story, then gives him the diamond.

The Prince confronts Vandeleur, telling him Francis and Miss Vandeleur will marry with a £10,000 dowry. Furthermore, Vandeleur must now go on a mission to Siam, otherwise the Prince will ruin him.

Finally, the Prince chastises Rolles, who is filled with remorse. The Prince believes the diamond inflicts suffering on any who covet it and he casts it into the River Seine.

The Vandeleurs search the riverbed, but never find the diamond. Prince Florizel himself, due to a revolution in Bohemia, is dethroned. He now keeps a cigar shop in Rupert Street, “the handsomest tobacconist in London” (p. 166).

“The Pavilion on the Links” (1880)

Frank Cassilis recounts how when at college he had had only one friend, the equally solitary and uncharismatic Northmour. Northmour had once invited him to his pavilion home at Graden-Easter, a wild place with stretches of quicksand on the coast. After a violent argument, however, the two had parted and had not spoken since.

Cassilis now returns to Graden-Easter on his travels. Unobserved, he sees Northmour, an older man, and a young woman move stealthily into the pavilion under cover of night. When Cassilis steps forward to address Northmour, the latter stabs him and flees into the house.

Unharmed, but curious about Northmour’s actions, Cassilis decides to keep watch on the house. He often sees the young woman, Clara Huddlestone, walking the beach. During these walks she is pursued by Northmour, whose attentions to her are rejected.

When Clara (who, we learn, later becomes Cassilis’s wife) nearly steps into the quicksand, Cassilis saves her. She then tells him that her father had been a private banker. When his affairs became disordered he tried “dangerous, and at last, criminal expedients to retrieve himself from ruin” (p. 189). This included involvement with the Italian Carbonari, members of a secret political association. The Italians were now pursuing him for the money he had lost. Northmour had pledged to help them out of their trouble if Mr Huddlestone would give Clara to him in marriage.

Cassilis decides to investigate the story. While reading about the Huddlestone case in the newspapers, he is startled to see three Italians in the village. When he returns to the pavilion, he sees footsteps leading to the quicksand and the hat of one of the Italians – they had been at the house, and one had sunk to his death.

He vows to protect Clara from the Italian threat and despite the rivalry between Northmour and Cassilis over Clara, Northmour accepts his help. The Italians set the house on fire and they flee. Mr Huddlestone pushes the others away, asking the Italians to kill him. They shoot him, and the house burns to the ground.

Meanwhile, Cassilis and Northmour continue to fight over Clara. In a surprisingly noble gesture, Northmour withdraws, saying Cassilis is free to marry her. Later, we learn that Northmour, having joined the Carbonari, dies fighting under Garibaldi for the liberation of Tyrol.

“A Lodging for the Night: A Story of Francis Villon” (1877)

This story is set in 1456, on a snowy night in Paris. Francis Villon, poet and vagabond, drinks and writes verse in the company of a “thievish crew” (p. 228). In a dispute over a game, one of these murders another, and during the confusion that ensues, another picks Villon’s pockets. Villon flees, but is worried that the tracks in the snow he leaves lead directly to the body.

In a doorway he finds a woman who has frozen to death and steals two coins from the body. When he discovers that his own purse is empty, he is so enraged that he throws the coins into the snow. Repenting, he returns, but can find only one of them.

He then decides to seek shelter for the night, but is refused by his adopted father and friends. At last, he knocks on the door of a stranger, the seigneur de Brisetout, who gives him food and company.

Villon tells the stranger about the murder and how he stole from the dead woman, but despite the stranger’s remonstrances, refuses to see the error of his ways. The stranger persists, arguing that “a gentleman should live chivalrously and lovingly to God, and the king, and his lady” (p. 207). Villon cannot be persuaded that his actions were wrong and argues that the noble art of warfare is equivalent to any robbery. Disgusted, his host throws him out. Villon is left unchanged, calling the stranger “[a] very dull old gentleman [. . . ] I wonder what his goblets may be worth” (p. 249).

“The Sire de Maletroit’s Door” (1878)

Like “A Lodging for the Night” (above), “The Sire de Maletroit’s Door” is also set in France. Returning from a late dinner with friends, Denis de Beaulieu is pursued by men-at-arms. He flees through an open door which shuts behind him. When he goes upstairs, he meets Alain, Sire de Maletroit, an eccentric old gentleman who insists he has been expecting him.

Denis assures him he is mistaken, but Alain persists. He introduces him to his niece, Blanche, who is dressed in bridal costume. Alain says that Denis and Blanche have two hours to become acquainted. If at the end of that period they do not decide to marry, Denis will hang.

Blanche explains that a captain had written her a love letter asking her to keep the house door open so he could visit. Unfortunately, her uncle had found the letter and decided to leave the door open to catch and force the captain into marriage. He had not appeared; instead, Denis had entered the trap.

Denis offers to sacrifice himself, but Blanche suggests they marry, and by the end of the two hours they realize that they are in love. They kiss and the “voice of Messire de Maletroit wishe[s] his new nephew a good morning” (p. 272).

“Providence and the Guitar” (1878)

Leon Berthelini, a failed actor, and his wife Elvira tour France, singing comic songs and playing guitar. However, their time in Castel-le-Gachis seems doomed from the start.

Leon is unable to obtain permission to perform from the Commissary of the Police. When he and his wife do perform, the audience will not pay to hear their songs. When the couple try to return to their inn, the landlord claims it is too late and refuses to give them their baggage. They try to involve the Commissary in the dispute, but despite serenading at his windows he will not come down.

The couple are resigned to sleeping outside, when they meet Mr Stubbs, a young Englishman. Leon and Elvira insist that Mr Stubbs accompany them and they soon come to a house where a man and wife are violently arguing.

The three sing to the couple to try and cheer them up and the couple give them shelter for the night. Noticing the frosty silence between the couple, Leon and Elvira decide to help them make amends.

The woman tells Elvira that they are arguing because her husband has turned down a good job as a clerk in favour of continuing with his painting. Believing his paintings are terrible, she cannot accept his decision. Elvira confesses that Leon cannot act, but professing himself to be an actor when he is actually a singer keeps him happy. She advises the woman that her husband could be happy by professing himself to be a painter while still taking the job as a clerk to earn money.

Leon then plays a song connected with the couple’s courtship and the wife softens towards her husband. The story ends with Leon and Elvira returning to the inn and with Stubbs’s conclusion that “[t]hey are all mad [. . .] all mad, but wonderfully decent” (p. 304).

All quotations from New Arabian Nights, The Works of Robert Louis Stevenson, Swanston edn, vol iv (London: Chatto and Windus, 1911).

Image from RLS, New Arabian Nights (London: Chatto and Windus, 1913).