Two surnames, both of them false; the first name both emperor’s handle and the most common-or-garden variety in mainland China, the second rooted in imperial calamity. A pioneer of hand charming, and a palm-stroker of no small renown; in a short life Wang entertained the very filaments of global power. His country seat in Nether Mallow was drenched red and gold; in tribute, he said, to a life long ago. Many guessed him older than his looks would confirm. In conversation, he would appear, as from the ground, his suit millstone-pressed, his tongue slightly proud of his lower lip. He bequeathed the club a fortune, saying, “Find it all, seek it, guzzle every last scrap of knowledge. It’s all here. It buzzes in every sperm’s head. It meditates in the sleeping egg.” His last words were “Find my father’s father,” and a simple request for water.
One of the great mysteries of our time, the individual known as Bqaq was born, depending on who you ask, in one of three places. Experts from the Roma chapter claim he was found by nuns beneath a piece of Pompeian graffiti declaring “The finances officer of the emperor Nero says this food is poison”. Bogotá have produced documents on the discovery of a half-burned boy on the steps of the Primary Cathedral, and London herself lays claims to Bqaq. The diary of John Mears references “a scarlet, nigh-on demonic babe”, left at the door of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, ”splashing in its mother’s wretched gifts”.
As for achievements, only one is known, and this alone secured Bqaq’s beatification. The sovereign has always traditionally been our organisation’s enemy, however many of their offspring are members. On 1 January 1900, as the new century stoked its boiler, the man known variously as Berquaque, Boerkrack and Berukakku-san bought every man in a Mayfair pub a single-malt whisky, before pulling on a costume depicting Queen Victoria as a ‘scarlet lady’ and blowing himself up.
A chaste and modest man by club standards, Benjamin ‘Oberon’ McBride championed more intellectual pursuits than most members. His fifteen backgammon trophies still glitter on the smoking room mantel, and it is said that he communicated with the dead grandmasters for tips. Fond of the company of his fellow man, he never married. Upon his death (misadventure) a note was found addressed “To my darling Hereford”. Into this he had poured out such passions as had lain dormant. The only Hereford in the club records had died five years before McBride was born. And where McBride’s blood had fallen, a curious reaction had caused two shapes to form: a skull and a butterfly.
Eventually unmasked as a woman, the Kiel-born Sonnenschein (real name Lutzi Abendroth) was six-foot-two and an unmatched procurer of girls. No evening was complete without a dozen firm-thighed ‘sunbeam’ dancers, and indeed the club’s membership octupled during her tenure. Acting as Herr Blitzen (a private joke at the expense of the English), she made a thoroughly handsome rogue, and talked many a pious virgin into the red shoes of the Hellfire Club. The writer’s grandfather remembers a breathy confessional in which a young shipping heir confessed to unnatural feelings for his fellow man. How relieved he was to discover the truth! When Abendroth’s skirts were figuratively raised, following a tip-off from one of her lovers, fierce debate was raised on her eligibility for membership. In the end she was banished, but immortalised. Her image, in full gentleman’s garb, still hangs in the hallowed Dashwood Gallery.
A sommelier without rival, Baron Karl Wovenbad was a robust man known for his boxing abilities. In contrast to his sporting, jolly demeanour, he often claimed to be able to summon the Morningstar himself. Such claims were often made under the grapeleaf, and affectionately mocked. Wovenbad, growing tired of being called a liar, called a meeting of the monks and set out the letters of the alphabet on the floor. Henriksson tells us that he “raised his arms and called out in a shrill voice, asking the devil to come out and greet his disciples.” When, after an hour of trying, no demon appeared, Wovenbad retired to the water closet. He did not return. Upon his body was written “Sleep and sleep”.
Dmitri Bubasarin, a native of St Petersburg, was rumoured to be a friend of the Tsar. As a club member, he was active, with mutinous interests. Despite a strong accent, he was able to talk anyone out of the room; numerous attempted raids by the police would end with the uniforms bowing deferentially out of Bubasarin’s imposing presence. He was known as a satyr of the first order. According to Pan, minute-taker for the Knights of West Wycombe (one of our pseudonyms), he would routinely stand naked upon the club’s antique chairs and bellow that he was hungry for love. He would then proceed to repeat this ‘shop’ call in seven languages, ending always in his native Russian.
Bubasarin’s sainthood was a surprise to all but those present on Walpurgis Night, 1907. When the police made their monthly visit, and he was dispatched to field their queries, he pulled from his pocket a great handful of feathers and a pocket knife. Before the officer, he stripped to the waist and proceeded to whittle each quill, before stabbing it into his shoulder blades. All the while, he laughed maniacally. The pain and blood loss eventually won, and Bubasarin fell to the floor like a shot pheasant. Three of the feathers can be found in the archives, the dull brown bloodstain never cleaned away.
By Kirsten Irving