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The Grand Babylon Hotel, a novel by Arnold Bennett


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_ NEVERTHELESS, there are men with a confirmed habit of
getting their own way, even as guests in an exclusive hotel: and
Theodore Racksole had long since fallen into that useful practice -
except when his only daughter Helen, motherless but high-spirited
girl, chose to think that his way crossed hers, in which case
Theodore capitulated and fell back. But when Theodore and his
daughter happened to be going one and the same road, which was
pretty often, then Heaven alone might help any obstacle that was
so ill-advised as to stand in their path. Jules, great and observant
man though he was, had not noticed the terrible projecting chins of
both father and daughter, otherwise it is possible he would have
reconsidered the question of the steak and Bass.

Theodore Racksole went direct to the entrance-hall of the hotel,
and entered Miss Spencer's sanctum.

'I want to see Mr Babylon,' he said, 'without the delay of an

Miss Spencer leisurely raised her flaxen head.

'I am afraid - ,' she began the usual formula. It was part of her daily
duty to discourage guests who desired to see Mr Babylon.

'No, no,' said Racksole quickly, 'I don't want any "I'm afraids." This
is business. If you had been the ordinary hotel clerk I should have
slipped you a couple of sovereigns into your hand, and the thing
would have been done.

As you are not - as you are obviously above bribes - I merely say to
you, I must see Mr Babylon at once on an affair of the utmost
urgency. My name is Racksole - Theodore Racksole.'

'Of New York?' questioned a voice at the door, with a slight
foreign accent.

The millionaire turned sharply, and saw a rather short,
French-looking man, with a bald head, a grey beard, a long and
perfectly-built frock coat, eye-glasses attached to a minute silver
chain, and blue eyes that seemed to have the transparent innocence
of a maid's.

'There is only one,' said Theodore Racksole succinctly.

'You wish to see me?' the new-comer suggested.

'You are Mr Felix Babylon?'

The man bowed.

'At this moment I wish to see you more than anyone else in the
world,' said Racksole. 'I am consumed and burnt up with a desire
to see you, Mr Babylon.

I only want a few minutes' quiet chat. I fancy I can settle my
business in that time.'

With a gesture Mr Babylon invited the millionaire down a side
corridor, at the end of which was Mr Babylon's private room, a
miracle of Louis XV furniture and tapestry: like most unmarried
men with large incomes, Mr Babylon had 'tastes' of a highly
expensive sort.

The landlord and his guest sat down opposite each other. Theodore
Racksole had met with the usual millionaire's luck in this
adventure, for Mr Babylon made a practice of not allowing himself
to be interviewed by his guests, however distinguished, however
wealthy, however pertinacious. If he had not chanced to enter Miss
Spencer's office at that precise moment, and if he had not been
impressed in a somewhat peculiar way by the physiognomy of the
millionaire, not all Mr Racksole's American energy and ingenuity
would have availed for a confabulation with the owner of the
Grand Babylon Hotel that night. Theodore Racksole, however, was
ignorant that a mere accident had served him. He took all the
credit to himself.

'I read in the New York papers some months ago,' Theodore
started, without even a clearing of the throat, 'that this hotel of
yours, Mr Babylon, was to be sold to a limited company, but it
appears that the sale was not carried out.'

'It was not,' answered Mr Babylon frankly, 'and the reason was that
the middle-men between the proposed company and myself wished
to make a large secret profit, and I declined to be a party to such a
profit. They were firm; I was firm; and so the affair came to

'The agreed price was satisfactory?'


'May I ask what the price was?'

'Are you a buyer, Mr Racksole?'

'Are you a seller, Mr Babylon?'

'I am,' said Babylon, 'on terms. The price was four hundred
thousand pounds, including the leasehold and goodwill. But I sell
only on the condition that the buyer does not transfer the property
to a limited company at a higher figure.'

'I will put one question to you, Mr Babylon,' said the millionaire.
'What have your profits averaged during the last four years?'

'Thirty-four thousand pounds per annum.'

'I buy,' said Theodore Racksole, smiling contentedly; 'and we will,
if you please, exchange contract-letters on the spot.'

'You come quickly to a resolution, Mr Racksole. But perhaps you
have been considering this question for a long time?'

'On the contrary,' Racksole looked at his watch, 'I have been
considering it for six minutes.'

Felix Babylon bowed, as one thoroughly accustomed to
eccentricity of wealth.

'The beauty of being well-known,' Racksole continued, 'is that you
needn't trouble about preliminary explanations. You, Mr Babylon,
probably know all about me. I know a good deal about you. We
can take each other for granted without reference. Really, it is as
simple to buy an hotel or a railroad as it is to buy a watch,
provided one is equal to the transaction.'

'Precisely,' agreed Mr Babylon smiling. 'Shall we draw up the little
informal contract? There are details to be thought of. But it occurs
to me that you cannot have dined yet, and might prefer to deal with
minor questions after dinner.'

'I have not dined,' said the millionaire, with emphasis, 'and in that
connexion will you do me a favour? Will you send for Mr Rocco?'

'You wish to see him, naturally.'

'I do,' said the millionaire, and added, 'about my dinner.'

'Rocco is a great man,' murmured Mr Babylon as he touched the
bell, ignoring the last words. 'My compliments to Mr Rocco,' he
said to the page who answered his summons, 'and if it is quite
convenient I should be glad to see him here for a moment.'

'What do you give Rocco?' Racksole inquired.

'Two thousand a year and the treatment of an Ambassador.'

'I shall give him the treatment of an Ambassador and three

'You will be wise,' said Felix Babylon.

At that moment Rocco came into the room, very softly - a man of
forty, thin, with long, thin hands, and an inordinately long brown
silky moustache.

'Rocco,' said Felix Babylon, 'let me introduce Mr Theodore
Racksole, of New York.'

'Sharmed,' said Rocco, bowing. 'Ze - ze, vat you call it,

'Exactly,' Racksole put in, and continued quickly: 'Mr Rocco, I
wish to acquaint you before any other person with the fact that I
have purchased the Grand Babylon Hotel. If you think well to
afford me the privilege of retaining your services I shall be happy
to offer you a remuneration of three thousand a year.'

'Tree, you said?'



'And now, Mr Rocco, will you oblige me very much by ordering a
plain beefsteak and a bottle of Bass to be served by Jules - I
particularly desire Jules - at table No. 17 in the dining-room in ten
minutes from now? And will you do me the honour of lunching
with me to-morrow?'

Mr Rocco gasped, bowed, muttered something in French, and

Five minutes later the buyer and seller of the Grand Babylon Hotel
had each signed a curt document, scribbled out on the hotel
note-paper. Felix Babylon asked no questions, and it was this
heroic absence of curiosity, of surprise on his part, that more than
anything else impressed Theodore Racksole. How many hotel
proprietors in the world, Racksole asked himself, would have let
that beef-steak and Bass go by without a word of comment.

'From what date do you wish the purchase to take effect?' asked

'Oh,' said Racksole lightly, 'it doesn't matter. Shall we say from

'As you will. I have long wished to retire. And now that the
moment has come - and so dramatically - I am ready. I shall return
to Switzerland. One cannot spend much money there, but it is my
native land. I shall be the richest man in Switzerland.' He smiled
with a kind of sad amusement.

'I suppose you are fairly well off?' said Racksole, in that easy
familiar style of his, as though the idea had just occurred to him.

'Besides what I shall receive from you, I have half a million

'Then you will be nearly a millionaire?'

Felix Babylon nodded.

'I congratulate you, my dear sir,' said Racksole, in the tone of a
judge addressing a newly-admitted barrister. 'Nine hundred
thousand pounds, expressed in francs, will sound very nice - in

'Of course to you, Mr Racksole, such a sum would be poverty.
Now if one might guess at your own wealth?' Felix Babylon was
imitating the other's freedom.

'I do not know, to five millions or so, what I am worth,' said
Racksole, with sincerity, his tone indicating that he would have
been glad to give the information if it were in his power.

'You have had anxieties, Mr Racksole?'

'Still have them. I am now holiday-making in London with my
daughter in order to get rid of them for a time.'

'Is the purchase of hotels your notion of relaxation, then?'

Racksole shrugged his shoulders. 'It is a change from railroads,' he

'Ah, my friend, you little know what you have bought.'

'Oh! yes I do,' returned Racksole; 'I have bought just the first hotel
in the world.'

'That is true, that is true,' Babylon admitted, gazing meditatively at
the antique Persian carpet. 'There is nothing, anywhere, like my
hotel. But you will regret the purchase, Mr Racksole. It is no
business of mine, of course, but I cannot help repeating that you
will regret the purchase.'

'I never regret.'

'Then you will begin very soon - perhaps to-night.'

'Why do you say that?'

'Because the Grand Babylon is the Grand Babylon. You think
because you control a railroad, or an iron-works, or a line of
steamers, therefore you can control anything. But no. Not the
Grand Babylon. There is something about the Grand Babylon - ' He
threw up his hands.

'Servants rob you, of course.'

'Of course. I suppose I lose a hundred pounds a week in that way.
But it is not that I mean. It is the guests. The guests are too - too

The great Ambassadors, the great financiers, the great nobles, all
the men that move the world, put up under my roof. London is the
centre of everything, and my hotel - your hotel - is the centre of
London. Once I had a King and a Dowager Empress staying here at
the same time. Imagine that!'

'A great honour, Mr Babylon. But wherein lies the difficulty?'

'Mr Racksole,' was the grim reply, 'what has become of your
shrewdness - that shrewdness which has made your fortune so
immense that even you cannot calculate it? Do you not perceive
that the roof which habitually shelters all the force, all the
authority of the world, must necessarily also shelter nameless and
numberless plotters, schemers, evil-doers, and workers of
mischief? The thing is as clear as day - and as dark as night. Mr
Racksole, I never know by whom I am surrounded. I never know
what is going forward.

Only sometimes I get hints, glimpses of strange acts and strange

You mentioned my servants. They are almost all good servants,
skilled, competent. But what are they besides? For anything I know
my fourth sub-chef may be an agent of some European
Government. For anything I know my invaluable Miss Spencer
may be in the pay of a court dressmaker or a Frankfort banker.
Even Rocco may be someone else in addition to Rocco.'

'That makes it all the more interesting,' remarked Theodore


'What a long time you have been, Father,' said Nella, when he
returned to table No. 17 in the salle manger.

'Only twenty minutes, my dove.'

'But you said two seconds. There is a difference.'

'Well, you see, I had to wait for the steak to cook.'

'Did you have much trouble in getting my birthday treat?'

'No trouble. But it didn't come quite as cheap as you said.'

'What do you mean, Father?'

'Only that I've bought the entire hotel. But don't split.'

'Father, you always were a delicious parent. Shall you give me the
hotel for a birthday present?'

'No. I shall run it - as an amusement. By the way, who is that chair

He noticed that a third cover had been laid at the table.

'That is for a friend of mine who came in about five minutes ago.
Of course I told him he must share our steak. He'll be here in a

'May I respectfully inquire his name?'

'Dimmock - Christian name Reginald; profession, English
companion to Prince Aribert of Posen. I met him when I was in St
Petersburg with cousin Hetty last fall. Oh; here he is. Mr
Dimmock, this is my dear father. He has succeeded with the steak.'

Theodore Racksole found himself confronted by a very young
man, with deep black eyes, and a fresh, boyish expression. They
began to talk.

Jules approached with the steak. Racksole tried to catch the
waiter's eye, but could not. The dinner proceeded.

'Oh, Father!' cried Nella, 'what a lot of mustard you have taken!'

'Have I?' he said, and then he happened to glance into a mirror on
his left hand between two windows. He saw the reflection of Jules,
who stood behind his chair, and he saw Jules give a slow,
significant, ominous wink to Mr Dimmock - Christian name,

He examined his mustard in silence. He thought that perhaps he
had helped himself rather plenteously to mustard. _

Read next: CHAPTER 3 - AT THREE A.M.

Read previous: Chapter 1 - The Millionaire And The Waiter

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