Since the time of Shakespeare, there has been no group in London more influential than the Grill Club. A secret society whose members are drawn from the rich and the poor, the Grill is blind to politics, ideology, and wealth. The only demands made of its members are secrecy and an open mind.
On a foggy night in 1897, an American diplomat tells three other club members of a recent night when he was lost in the London fog and heard a distant scream. Following the sound, he entered a strange house, where he discovered a man lying dead on a princess’s divan. The crime baffled Scotland Yard, but the men of the Grill Club will get to the bottom of it—no matter how long it takes.
This ebook features a new introduction by Otto Penzler and has been professionally proofread to ensure accuracy and readability on all devices.
ANY sunny afternoon, on Fifth Avenue, or at night in the
table d'hote restaurants of University Place, you may meet the soldier of fortune who of all his brothers in arms now living is the most remarkable. You may have noticed him; a stiffly erect, distinguished-looking man, with gray hair, an imperial of the fashion of Louis Napoleon, fierce blue eyes, and across his forehead a sabre cut.
This is Henry Ronald Douglas MacIver, for some time in India an ensign in the Sepoy mutiny; in Italy, lieutenant under Garibaldi; in Spain, captain under Don Carlos; in our Civil War, major in the Confederate army; in Mexico, lieutenant-colonel under the Emperor Maximilian; colonel under Napoleon III, inspector of cavalry for the Khedive of Egypt, and chief of cavalry and general of brigade of the army of King Milan of Servia. These are only a few of his military titles. In 1884 was published a book giving the story of his life up to that year. It was called "Under Fourteen Flags." If to-day General MacIver were to reprint the book, it would be called "Under Eighteen Flags."
MacIver was born on Christmas Day, 1841, at sea, a league off the shore of Virginia. His mother was Miss Anna Douglas of that State; Ronald MacIver, his father, was a Scot, a Rossshire gentleman, a younger son of the chief of the Clan MacIver. Until he was ten years old young MacIver played in Virginia at the home of his father. Then, in order that he might be educated, he was shipped to Edinburgh to an uncle, General Donald Graham. After five years his uncle obtained for him a commission as ensign in the Honorable East India Company, and at sixteen, when other boys are preparing for college, MacIver was in the Indian Mutiny, fighting, not for a flag, nor a country, but as one fights a wild animal, for his life. He was wounded in the arm, and, with a sword, cut over the head. As a safeguard against the sun the boy had placed inside his helmet a wet towel. This saved him to fight another day, but even with that protection the sword sank through the helmet, the towel, and into the skull. To-day you can see the scar. He was left in the road for dead, and even after his wounds had healed, was six weeks in the hospital.
This tough handling at the very start might have satisfied some men, but in the very next war MacIver was a volunteer and wore the red shirt of Garibaldi. He remained at the front throughout that campaign, and until within a few years there has been no campaign of consequence in which he has not taken part. He served in the Ten Years' War in Cuba, in Brazil, in Argentina, in Crete, in Greece, twice in Spain in Carlist revolutions, in Bosnia, and for four years in our Civil War under Generals Jackson and Stuart around Richmond. In this great war he was four times wounded....
The Grill is the club most difficult of access in the world. To be placed on its rolls distinguishes the new member as greatly as though he had received a vacant Garter or had been caricatured in "Vanity Fair."
Men who belong to the Grill Club never mention that fact. If you were to ask one of them which clubs he frequents, he will name all save that particular one. He is afraid if he told you he belonged to the Grill, that it would sound like boasting.
The Grill Club dates back to the days when Shakespeare's Theatre stood on the present site of the "Times" office. It has a golden Grill which Charles the Second presented to the Club, and the original manuscript of "Tom and Jerry in London," which was bequeathed to it by Pierce Egan himself. The members, when they write letters at the Club, still use sand to blot the ink.
The Grill enjoys the distinction of having blackballed, without political prejudice, a Prime Minister of each party. At the same sitting at which one of these fell, it elected, on account of his brogue and his bulls, Quiller, Q. C., who was then a penniless barrister.
When Paul Preval, the French artist who came to London by royal command to paint a portrait of the Prince of Wales, was made an honorary member—only foreigners may be honorary members—he said, as he signed his first wine card, "I would rather see my name on that, than on a picture in the Louvre."