THE WONDER CLUB.
JOHN JELLICOE AND VAL PRINCE,
AFTER DESIGNS BY THE AUTHOR.
HARRISON & SONS, 59, PALL MALL,
_Booksellers to the Queen and H.R.H. the Prince of Wales._
_All rights reserved._
PRINTED BY A. HUDSON AND CO.,
16, WANDSWORTH ROAD, S.W.
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
TITLE PAGE --
THE PHANTOM FLEA 17
THE SPIRIT LOVERS 57
THE GLACIER KING 118
THE MERMAID 129
THE PIGMY QUEEN 202
THE SPIRIT LEG 314
LOST IN THE CATACOMBS 373
A PEEP AT THE WONDER CLUB.
Towards the close of the last century there stood in one of the Midland
counties of England, in the centre of two cross-roads, a venerable
hostelry, built in the reign of Elizabeth, and known by the sign of "Ye
Headless Lady." Its ancient gables were shaded by luxuriant
beech trees. The woodwork
of the building and its weather-stained walls
of brick were partially
overgrown with thick ivy, while its high,
dingy-red roof was tinted with every variety
of lichen. The windows were
narrow, and the framework
heavy, as is usual in houses of that period.
The host of this establishment, one Jack Hearty, was one of the old
school of landlords--robust, jovial, and never above his business. His
fathers had owned the inn before him, and "he never wished to be a
better man than his father, nor a worse either, for the matter of that,"
as he would say. All day long, when not engaged with his customers
indoors, he was to be seen at the door of his inn, with his apron girt
around him, and a "yard of clay" at his lips, straining his eyes down
the long cross-roads for the first glimpse
of a customer.
Often after gazing long and intently
into the distance he would turn
back with a sigh, knock the ashes from his pipe, refill it, take a deep
draught of his own home-brewed ale, then, if none of his customers
required anything, and the affairs of his household permitted it, he
would sally out again. This time, perhaps, his eyes would be greeted by
the sight of a solitary
wayfarer, or, better still, the stage-coach.
Then it was that the honest landlord's face would brighten
up, as it was
certain to bring him some of the "big-wigs" from town. He would rub his
hands and chuckle, while Dame Hearty would begin to bustle
welcome the fresh arrivals. It was not often, however, that the
"Headless Lady" was entirely deserted.
A small clique or brotherhood, known as "The Wonder Club," had been
nightly in the habit of assembling here for years, and this served to
bring grist to the mill. Some of the eminent
men from the neighbouring
village, among whom were the doctor, the lawyer, an antiquary, an
analytical chemist, and others, had formed among themselves a club,
which was to consist only of very choice spirits, like themselves, and
if any guest were introduced among them, it was only to be with a letter
and the full consent of all parties. By these strict
rules they hoped to keep the club select. A room at the inn was set
apart for them, into which no one not belonging to the club ever
presumed to enter, unless it was the landlord, who would be called every
now and then to replenish
the bowl, and whom sometimes the guests of
the club would "draw out," as it was whispered in the village that the
landlord of the "Headless Lady" knew a rare lot of stories, he did; also
how to tell 'em, too, my word! but these he generally reserved for his
customers. One strict
law of the club that we have not yet
mentioned was that no guest invited was to be a "business man." Should a
commercial traveller ever have the hardihood to enter the sacred
precincts of the club, he was assailed with a battery
of glances from
the members that must have completely cowed him, unless he were a man of
more than usual strength of nerve; but as this rarely
happened, all such
outward manifestations of contempt
were kept within due bounds. Business
was, of course, tabooed; even politics
were only admitted on sufferance
and by a special permission
of the chairman. There was one evening in
the year, however, when the chairman never granted any such permission,
and that was on the anniversary
of the founding of the club. On this
evening such subjects as business and politics
would have been cried
down, and the daring
introducer of the obnoxious themes would have been
condemned to drink a cup of cold water on his bended knees by way of
expiating his offence. No subjects of public or private interest were
tolerated on this evening, or, indeed, on any other. The chief delight
of this club was to tell or to listen to stories which were all more or
less of the marvellous class, and which each took it by turn to relate
to the rest, the strictest silence and order being preserved during the
recital. The evening that we are about to describe to the reader was the
of the founding of the club. This was a very grand
event. For any one of its members or guests, whether married or single,
to have been absent, on this occasion would have been little less than
to the rest. Let us try to give our readers a glimpse
club room and its guests on this memorable
Imagine, then, a large room with low ceiling and walls of dark oak
panel, a large old-fashionedfireplace
with dogs, and a Yule log blazing
on the hearth. The curtains are old and embroidered, and closely drawn.
The room is well lighted, and in the middle is a long table, at which,
through a cloud of tobacco
smoke, a party of nine--all lords of the
creation--may be discovered. A bowl of punch is in the centre of the
table, at which every now and then each guest replenishes his glass. Mr.
Oldstone, the antiquary, has been elected chairman. Watch with what
dignity he fills his post of honour. Look! he rises and thumps the
table. He is going to make a speech. The strictest silence reigns; you
might hear a pin drop.
"Gentlemen," began the worthy
chairman, after one or two preliminary
"hems," "it is with feelings of mixed pride and pleasure that I feel
myself called upon to-night to preside
at this most honourable
(Hear, hear!) The chairman resumed, "This is the tenth anniversary
our club of choice spirits (cheers), and so shamefully nicknamed by our
enemies 'The Morbid Club.' (Groans.) Irritated at our exclusiveness, and
envious at the reports of the superior talent
that circulates nightly
our table, and which bursts into a halo of genius
on our great
saturnalias, what wonder, gentlemen, if the worthy
members of our select
club should make enemies out of their own circle? Only 'birds of a
feather flock together,' and perhaps the contempt
of our enemies is the
they can pay us." (Hear, hear! and various shouts and
yells of delight, amid clapping of hands, stamping, and rattling of
glasses.) Here the chairman paused to take breath, and then, after a
preliminary sip at his glass of punch, proceeded.
"Gentlemen, I feel duly sensible
of the honour conferred upon me this
evening in being selected to preside
at our meeting on this very
important occasion, an honour which I feel unable
to support, and for
which I feel my abilities so inadequate. (No, no!) Gentlemen, we are a
company of nine this evening, the number of the muses--the omen is
auspicious. I see around me faces that were present at the inauguration
of our club, ten years ago, though others, alas! have gone to their long
rest." Here the speaker
was visibly moved, and passed his hand over his
eyes to wipe away an incipient tear. Then, recovering himself, "Need I
proceed, gentlemen? Need I trespass
longer upon the time and patience
guests so illustrious? (Yes, yes!) Then, gentlemen," continued the
speaker, "I would but detain
you one moment longer, to propose the
following toast, to be drunk with three times three. (Hear, hear!) 'Long
live the "Wonder Club," and all its choice members.'" Here the
president, at the conclusion
of his speech, held a bumper above his
head, and repeated
the toast with the rest of the company, with a "Hip,
hip, hip, hurrah!" "May their brains be as fertile
as the plains of
Elysium, and may the fame of the 'Wonder Club' spread to the ends of the
earth." This sentiment
was followed by a burst of applause.
In the midst of the stamping, cheering, and rattling of glasses that
ensued a knock was heard at the door. Who could it be? The landlord? It
was not his wont to disturb
the club for a trifle. He only made his
appearance when called for. What was it? Was the inn on fire? Who could
venture to disturb
meeting of the "Wonder Club" on their
tenth anniversary? One of the members rose from his seat and opened the
door ajar, still holding
the handle in his hand.
"Who is it? What do you want at this hour?" he asked.
"I beg pardon, gentlemen," said the voice of the honest landlord
without, "for disturbing the company; but a gentleman has just brought a
letter for the chairman, and I thought it _might_ be important.
Leastways, I thought it wouldn't be much harm to deliver it at once.
The gentleman has sent in his card. Excuse the interruption, sirs; I
hope no offence."
The letter was delivered to Mr. Oldstone. He glanced at the card.
"What, a visitor!" he said; "and at this time of night. Let me tell you,
landlord--ahem--that this is a most unwarrantable infringement
of--er--er--of the rules laid down by--er--eh? Stay, what have we here?
Excuse me, gentlemen, while I break the seal. Ha! from my old friend
Rustcoin. You remember him, gentlemen--my brother antiquary, formerly
member of our club. He writes from Rome:
"'MY DEAR FRIEND,--I dare say you are surprised to hear from me again,
after my long silence. The fact is that I had put off writing
having some time ago formed a resolution
of returning to England, when I
hoped to surprise you by suddenly appearing unexpectedly
in time for the
of the inauguration
of our club. Certain affairs,
however, have prevented me from being present myself in the flesh, but I
beg to introduce to your notice my young friend, Mr. Vandyke McGuilp, an
artist who has for some time past been prosecuting his studies here in
Rome. He is a young man of talent
and genius, possessing a great fund of
stories of the marvellous and supernatural order, such as your club
particularly prides itself on. He is quite one of our sort, and you
would be doing me a great favour to introduce him to the rest of the
members. If he could arrive in time for your grand saturnalia, I should
pleased.--Your old friend,
"Well, gentlemen," said the president, "what do you say to that? Shall
the neophyte be admitted? You see, he is not a commercial
a business man, but an artist; one of those restless
strivers after the
ideal. A traveller, too--a man full of stories, like one of us. What do
you say--shall he be admitted?"
The guests gave an unanimous
consent, and the next moment our host
ushered the stranger into the club-room. All eyes were directed towards
the stranger. He was a young man, bordering on thirty, about the middle
height, who, contrary
to the custom of the period, wore his own hair,
which at that time was considered extremely
vulgar. He wore a slouch hat
instead of the usual three-cornered shape, and an Italian cloak thrown
over the left shoulder.
He doffed his hat with dignity
as he entered the apartment,
and after shaking the snow from his cloak (for it had been snowing hard
without that night, being in December), he handed cloak and hat to the
landlord and accepted the offer of a chair that Mr. Oldstone had placed
for him near the fire.
"Here! mine host," shouted Mr. Oldstone, "bring another log, and see
that you make this gentleman comfortable to-night, for I see without
asking him any questions that he is one of our set."
"Ay, ay, sir," said the landlord, who was just leaving the room. "Never
fear, sir, I'll see to the gentleman's wants, and my old woman will warm
the bed, for it's a nasty night to be out in. My blessed
eyes, how it
snows! The gentleman must have had pressing business with you, sir, to
bring him out here such a night as this."
"No, my good host," replied the artist; "nothing more than a desire to
be present at the tenth anniversary
of the club that I have heard so
The host looked astonished, and the guests felt flattered. The
landlord's respect for the members of the club was augmented
"Well, well; to think of that, now," he muttered to himself. "To think
that this gentleman should trouble himself to come from who knows how
far off, just to be present at the tenth anniversary
of _our_ club, and
on such a night as this, too."
"By the by, Mr. Hearty," said the new comer to the landlord: "I believe
that's your name, is it not?"
"The same, sir; Jack Hearty, at your service, sir."
"Well, then, Jack Hearty, I have just come from foreign parts, where I
have left an old customer
of yours; one Mr. Rustcoin, a great friend of
Mr. Oldstone's. Do you recollect
"_Recollect_ him!" exclaimed the landlord. "Ay, indeed, sir, do I; a
pleasanter gentleman over his bottle of port or over his bowl of punch
hasn't crossed my threshold
since he left it. Many's the good yarn we
would have together. I hope you left him very well, sir?"
"In excellent health, thank you, Jack," said the stranger. "He desired
to be remembered to you."
"Thank you, sir," said the host.
"Yes; those slippers will do," said the new guest.
"Draw near to the table, my friend," said Mr. Oldstone, "for I must
introduce you to the other members and guests here to-night."
"My friends," said the chairman, "this gentleman is Mr. Vandyke McGuilp,
an artist from Rome, great friend of my old chum Rustcoin, whom most of
you knew. Mr. McGuilp, this gentleman on my right is Mr. Hardcase, the
lawyer, who will be the first to relate
a story to-night. On his right
is Dr. Bleedem, one of our celebrated
physicians; next to him is Mr.
Cyanite, professor of geology, and then comes Mr. Blackdeed, one of our
eminent tragedians; next to him is Mr. Parnassus, a young poet of great
promise; after him is Mr. Crucible, analytical chemist, one of the
oldest members of our club; next to him, as guest to-night, is Captain
of Her Majesty's good ship the _Dreadnought_; then,
next door neighbour to yourself is Mr. Jollytoast, celebrated
The new visitor
bowed to each guest at the table with urbanity, and the
guests returned the salute
"Well, gentlemen," began the president, "what do you say to a bumper to
the health of our new guest?"
"Hear, hear!" cried the guests, unanimously.
Each filled up his glass from the punch-bowl, and our artist's health
was drunk with cheers, to which he responded in a short and modest
"And now, Mr. Hardcase," said the chairman, after the formalities were
gone through, "I think it was arranged that you should tell the first
story. I hope you have one ready. I am anxious
for my young friend to