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The Grand Babylon Hotel, a novel by Arnold Bennett


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_ MR REGINALD DIMMOCK proved himself, despite his extreme
youth, to be a man of the world and of experiences, and a practised
talker. Conversation between him and Nella Racksole seemed
never to flag. They chattered about St Petersburg, and the ice on
the Neva, and the tenor at the opera who had been exiled to
Siberia, and the quality of Russian tea, and the sweetness of
Russian champagne, and various other aspects of Muscovite
existence. Russia exhausted, Nella lightly outlined her own doings
since she had met the young man in the Tsar's capital, and this
recital brought the topic round to London, where it stayed till the
final piece of steak was eaten. Theodore Racksole noticed that Mr
Dimmock gave very meagre information about his own
movements, either past or future. He regarded the youth as a
typical hanger-on of Courts, and wondered how he had obtained
his post of companion to Prince Aribert of Posen, and who Prince
Aribert of Posen might be. The millionaire thought he had once
heard of Posen, but he wasn't sure; he rather fancied it was one of
those small nondescript German States of which five-sixths of the
subjects are Palace officials, and the rest charcoal-burners or
innkeepers. Until the meal was nearly over, Racksole said little -
perhaps his thoughts were too busy with Jules' wink to Mr
Dimmock, but when ices had been followed by coffee, he decided
that it might be as well, in the interests of the hotel, to discover
something about his daughter's friend. He never for an instant
questioned her right to possess her own friends; he had always left
her in the most amazing liberty, relying on her inherited good
sense to keep her out of mischief; but, quite apart from the wink,
he was struck by Nella's attitude towards Mr Dimmock, an attitude
in which an amiable scorn was blended with an evident desire to
propitiate and please.

'Nella tells me, Mr Dimmock, that you hold a confidential position
with Prince Aribert of Posen,' said Racksole. 'You will pardon an
American's ignorance, but is Prince Aribert a reigning Prince -
what, I believe, you call in Europe, a Prince Regnant?'

'His Highness is not a reigning Prince, nor ever likely to be,'
answered Dimmock. 'The Grand Ducal Throne of Posen is
occupied by his Highness's nephew, the Grand Duke Eugen.'

'Nephew?' cried Nella with astonishment.

'Why not, dear lady?'

'But Prince Aribert is surely very young?'

'The Prince, by one of those vagaries of chance which occur
sometimes in the history of families, is precisely the same age as
the Grand Duke. The late Grand Duke's father was twice married.
Hence this youthfulness on the part of an uncle.'

'How delicious to be the uncle of someone as old as yourself! But I
suppose it is no fun for Prince Aribert. I suppose he has to be
frightfully respectful and obedient, and all that, to his nephew?'

'The Grand Duke and my Serene master are like brothers. At
present, of course, Prince Aribert is nominally heir to the throne,
but as no doubt you are aware, the Grand Duke will shortly marry
a near relative of the Emperor's, and should there be a family - ' Mr
Dimmock stopped and shrugged his straight shoulders. 'The Grand
Duke,' he went on, without finishing the last sentence, 'would
much prefer Prince Aribert to be his successor. He really doesn't
want to marry. Between ourselves, strictly between ourselves, he
regards marriage as rather a bore. But, of course, being a German
Grand Duke, he is bound to marry. He owes it to his country, to

'How large is Posen?' asked Racksole bluntly.

'Father,' Nella interposed laughing, 'you shouldn't ask such
inconvenient questions. You ought to have guessed that it isn't
etiquette to inquire about the size of a German Dukedom.'

'I am sure,' said Dimmock, with a polite smile, 'that the Grand
Duke is as much amused as anyone at the size of his territory. I
forget the exact acreage, but I remember that once Prince Aribert
and myself walked across it and back again in a single day.'

'Then the Grand Duke cannot travel very far within his own
dominions? You may say that the sun does set on his empire?'

'It does,' said Dimmock.

'Unless the weather is cloudy,' Nella put in. 'Is the Grand Duke
content always to stay at home?'

'On the contrary, he is a great traveller, much more so than Prince

I may tell you, what no one knows at present, outside this hotel,
that his Royal Highness the Grand Duke, with a small suite, will be
here to-morrow.'

'In London?' asked Nella.


'In this hotel?'


'Oh! How lovely!'

'That is why your humble servant is here to-night - a sort of
advance guard.'

'But I understood,' Racksole said, 'that you were - er - attached to
Prince Aribert, the uncle.'

'I am. Prince Aribert will also be here. The Grand Duke and the
Prince have business about important investments connected with
the Grand Duke's marriage settlement. . . . In the highest quarters,
you understand.'

'For so discreet a person,' thought Racksole, 'you are fairly
communicative.' Then he said aloud: 'Shall we go out on the

As they crossed the dining-room Jules stopped Mr Dimmock and
handed him a letter. 'Just come, sir, by messenger,' said Jules.

Nella dropped behind for a second with her father. 'Leave me
alone with this boy a little - there's a dear parent,' she whispered in
his ear.

'I am a mere cypher, an obedient nobody,' Racksole replied,
pinching her arm surreptitiously. 'Treat me as such. Use me as you
like. I will go and look after my hoteL' And soon afterwards he

Nella and Mr Dimmock sat together on the terrace, sipping iced
drinks. They made a handsome couple, bowered amid plants which
blossomed at the command of a Chelsea wholesale florist. People
who passed by remarked privately that from the look of things
there was the beginning of a romance m that conversation. Perhaps
there was, but a more intimate acquaintance with the character of
Nella Racksole would have been necessary in order to predict what
precise form that romance would take.

Jules himself served the liquids, and at ten o'clock he brought
another note. Entreating a thousand pardons, Reginald Dimmock,
after he had glanced at the note, excused himself on the plea of
urgent business for his Serene master, uncle of the Grand Duke of
Posen. He asked if he might fetch Mr Racksole, or escort Miss
Racksole to her father. But Miss Racksole said gaily that she felt
no need of an escort, and should go to bed. She added that her
father and herself always endeavoured to be independent of each

Just then Theodore Racksole had found his way once more into Mr
Babylon's private room. Before arriving there, however, he had
discovered that in some mysterious manner the news of the change
of proprietorship had worked its way down to the lowest strata of
the hotel's cosmos. The corridors hummed with it, and even
under-servants were to be seen discussing the thing, just as though
it mattered to them.

'Have a cigar, Mr Racksole,' said the urbane Mr Babylon, 'and a
mouthful of the oldest cognac in all Europe.'

In a few minutes these two were talking eagerly, rapidly. Felix
Babylon was astonished at Racksole's capacity for absorbing the
details of hotel management. And as for Racksole he soon realized
that Felix Babylon must be a prince of hotel managers. It had
never occurred to Racksole before that to manage an hotel, even a
large hotel, could be a specially interesting affair, or that it could
make any excessive demands upon the brains of the manager; but
he came to see that he had underrated the possibilities of an hotel.
The business of the Grand Babylon was enormous. It took
Racksole, with all his genius for organization, exactly half an hour
to master the details of the hotel laundry-work. And the
laundry-work was but one branch of activity amid scores, and not a
very large one at that. The machinery of checking supplies, and of
establishing a mean ratio between the raw stuff received in the
kitchen and the number of meals served in the salle à manger and
the private rooms, was very complicated and delicate. When
Racksole had grasped it, he at once suggested some improvements,
and this led to a long theoretical discussion, and the discussion led
to digressions, and then Felix Babylon, in a moment of
absent-mindedness, yawned.

Racksole looked at the gilt clock on the high mantelpiece.

'Great Scott!' he said. 'It's three o'clock. Mr Babylon, accept my
apologies for having kept you up to such an absurd hour.'

'I have not spent so pleasant an evening for many years. You have
let me ride my hobby to my heart's content. It is I who should

Racksole rose.

'I should like to ask you one question,' said Babylon. 'Have you
ever had anything to do with hotels before?'

'Never,' said Racksole.

'Then you have missed your vocation. You could have been the
greatest of all hotel-managers. You would have been greater than
me, and I am unequalled, though I keep only one hotel, and some
men have half a dozen. Mr Racksole, why have you never run an

'Heaven knows,' he laughed, 'but you flatter me, Mr Babylon.'

'I? Flatter? You do not know me. I flatter no one, except, perhaps,
now and then an exceptionally distinguished guest. In which case I
give suitable instructions as to the bill.'

'Speaking of distinguished guests, I am told that a couple of
German princes are coming here to-morrow.'

'That is so.'

'Does one do anything? Does one receive them formally - stand
bowing in the entrance-hall, or anything of that sort?'

'Not necessarily. Not unless one wishes. The modern hotel
proprietor is not like an innkeeper of the Middle Ages, and even
princes do not expect to see him unless something should happen
to go wrong. As a matter of fact, though the Grand Duke of Posen
and Prince Aribert have both honoured me by staying here before,
I have never even set eyes on them. You will find all arrangements
have been made.'

They talked a little longer, and then Racksole said good night. 'Let
me see you to your room. The lifts will be closed and the place
will be deserted.

As for myself, I sleep here,' and Mr Babylon pointed to an inner

'No, thanks,' said Racksole; 'let me explore my own hotel
unaccompanied. I believe I can discover my room.' When he got
fairly into the passages, Racksole was not so sure that he could
discover his own room. The number was 107, but he had forgotten
whether it was on the first or second floor.

Travelling in a lift, one is unconscious of floors. He passed several
lift-doorways, but he could see no glint of a staircase; in all
self-respecting hotels staircases have gone out of fashion, and
though hotel architects still continue, for old sakes' sake, to build
staircases, they are tucked away in remote corners where their
presence is not likely to offend the eye of a spoiled and
cosmopolitan public. The hotel seemed vast, uncanny, deserted.
An electric light glowed here and there at long intervals. On the
thick carpets, Racksole's thinly-shod feet made no sound, and he
wandered at ease to and fro, rather amused, rather struck by the
peculiar senses of night and mystery which had suddenly come
over him. He fancied he could hear a thousand snores peacefully
descending from the upper realms. At length he found a staircase,
a very dark and narrow one, and presently he was on the first floor.
He soon discovered that the numbers of the rooms on this floor did
not get beyond seventy. He encountered another staircase and
ascended to the second floor. By the decoration of the walls he
recognized this floor as his proper home, and as he strolled
through the long corridor he whistled a low, meditative whistle of
satisfaction. He thought he heard a step in the transverse corridor,
and instinctively he obliterated himself in a recess which held a
service-cabinet and a chair. He did hear a step. Peeping cautiously
out, he perceived, what he had not perceived previously, that a
piece of white ribbon had been tied round the handle of the door of
one of the bedrooms. Then a man came round the corner of the
transverse corridor, and Racksole drew back. It was Jules - Jules
with his hands in his pockets and a slouch hat over his eyes, but in
other respects attired as usual.

Racksole, at that instant, remembered with a special vividness
what Felix Babylon had said to him at their first interview. He
wished he had brought his revolver. He didn't know why he should
feel the desirability of a revolver in a London hotel of the most
unimpeachable fair fame, but he did feel the desirability of such an
instrument of attack and defence. He privately decided that if Jules
went past his recess he would take him by the throat and in that
attitude put a few plain questions to this highly dubious waiter. But
Jules had stopped. The millionaire made another cautious
observation. Jules, with infinite gentleness, was turning the handle
of the door to which the white ribbon was attached. The door
slowly yielded and Jules disappeared within the room. After a brief
interval, the night-prowling Jules reappeared, closed the door as
softly as he had opened it, removed the ribbon, returned upon his
steps, and vanished down the transverse corridor.

'This is quaint,' said Racksole; 'quaint to a degree!'

It occurred to him to look at the number of the room, and he stole
towards it.

'Well, I'm d - d!' he murmured wonderingly.

The number was 111, his daughter's room! He tried to open it, but
the door was locked. Rushing to his own room, No. 107, he seized
one of a pair of revolvers (the kind that are made for millionaires)
and followed after Jules down the transverse corridor. At the end
of this corridor was a window; the window was open; and Jules
was innocently gazing out of the window. Ten silent strides, and
Theodore Racksole was upon him.

'One word, my friend,' the millionaire began, carelessly waving the
revolver in the air. Jules was indubitably startled, but by an
admirable exercise of self-control he recovered possession of his
faculties in a second.

'Sir?' said Jules.

'I just want to be informed, what the deuce you were doing in No.
111 a moment ago.'

'I had been requested to go there,' was the calm response.

'You are a liar, and not a very clever one. That is my daughter's
room. Now - out with it, before I decide whether to shoot you or
throw you into the street.'

'Excuse me, sir, No. 111 is occupied by a gentleman.'

'I advise you that it is a serious error of judgement to contradict
me, my friend. Don't do it again. We will go to the room together,
and you shall prove that the occupant is a gentleman, and not my

'Impossible, sir,' said Jules.

'Scarcely that,' said Racksole, and he took Jules by the sleeve. The
millionaire knew for a certainty that Nella occupied No. 111, for
he had examined the room her, and himself seen that her trunks
and her maid and herself had arrived there in safety. 'Now open the
door,' whispered Racksole, when they reached No.111.

'I must knock.'

'That is just what you mustn't do. Open it. No doubt you have your

Confronted by the revolver, Jules readily obeyed, yet with a
deprecatory gesture, as though he would not be responsible for this
outrage against the decorum of hotel life. Racksole entered. The
room was brilliantly lighted.

'A visitor, who insists on seeing you, sir,' said Jules, and fled.

Mr Reginald Dimmock, still in evening dress, and smoking a
cigarette, rose hurriedly from a table.

'Hello, my dear Mr Racksole, this is an unexpected - ah - pleasure.'

'Where is my daughter? This is her room.'

'Did I catch what you said, Mr Racksole?'

'I venture to remark that this is Miss Racksole's room.'

'My good sir,' answered Dimmock, 'you must be mad to dream of
such a thing.

Only my respect for your daughter prevents me from expelling you
forcibly, for such an extraordinary suggestion.'

A small spot half-way down the bridge of the millionaire's nose
turned suddenly white.

'With your permission,' he said in a low calm voice, 'I will examine
the dressing-room and the bath-room.'

'Just listen to me a moment,' Dimmock urged, in a milder tone.

'I'll listen to you afterwards, my young friend,' said Racksole, and
he proceeded to search the bath-room, and the dressing-room,
without any result whatever. 'Lest my attitude might be open to
misconstruction, Mr Dimmock, I may as well tell you that I have
the most perfect confidence in my daughter, who is as well able to
take care of herself as any woman I ever met, but since you entered
it there have been one or two rather mysterious occurrences in this
hotel. That is all.' Feeling a draught of air on his shoulder,
Racksole turned to the window. 'For instance,' he added, 'I perceive
that this window is broken, badly broken, and from the outside.

Now, how could that have occurred?'

'If you will kindly hear reason, Mr Racksole,' said Dimmock in his
best diplomatic manner, 'I will endeavour to explain things to you.
I regarded your first question to me when you entered my room as
being offensively put, but I now see that you had some
justification.' He smiled politely. 'I was passing along this corridor
about eleven o'clock, when I found Miss Racksole in a difficulty
with the hotel servants. Miss Racksole was retiring to rest in this
room when a large stone, which must have been thrown from the
Embankment, broke the window, as you see. Apart from the
discomfort of the broken window, she did not care to remain in the
room. She argued that where one stone had come another might
follow. She therefore insisted on her room being changed. The
servants said that there was no other room available with a
dressing-room and bath-room attached, and your daughter made a
point of these matters. I at once offered to exchange apartments
with her. She did me the honour to accept my offer. Our respective
belongings were moved - and that is all. Miss Racksole is at this
moment, I trust, asleep in No. 124.'

Theodore Racksole looked at the young man for a few seconds in

There was a faint knock at the door.

'Come in,' said Racksole loudly.

Someone pushed open the door, but remained standing on the mat.
It was Nella's maid, in a dressing-gown.

'Miss Racksole's compliments, and a thousand excuses, but a book
of hers was left on the mantelshelf in this room. She cannot sleep,
and wishes to read.'

'Mr Dimmock, I tender my apologies - my formal apologies,' said
Racksole, when the girl had gone away with the book. 'Good

'Pray don't mention it,' said Dimmock suavely - and bowed him
out. _



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