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The Grand Babylon Hotel, a novel by Arnold Bennett


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_ IN another moment they were all three talking quite nicely, and
with at any rate an appearance of being natural. Prince Aribert
became suave, even deferential to Nella, and more friendly
towards Nella's father than their respective positions demanded.
The latter amused himself by studying this sprig of royalty, the
first with whom he had ever come into contact. He decided that the
young fellow was personable enough, 'had no frills on him,'

and would make an exceptionally good commercial traveller for a
first-class firm. Such was Theodore Racksole's preliminary
estimate of the man who might one day be the reigning Grand
Duke of Posen.

It occurred to Nella, and she smiled at the idea, that the bureau of
the hotel was scarcely the correct place in which to receive this
august young man. There he stood, with his head half-way through
the bureau window, negligently leaning against the woodwork, just
as though he were a stockbroker or the manager of a New York
burlesque company.

'Is your Highness travelling quite alone?' she asked.

'By a series of accidents I am,' he said. 'My equerry was to have
met me at Charing Cross, but he failed to do so - I cannot imagine

'Mr Dimmock?' questioned Racksole.

'Yes, Dimmock. I do not remember that he ever missed an
appointment before.

You know him? He has been here?'

'He dined with us last night,' said Racksole - 'on Nella's invitation,'
he added maliciously; 'but to-day we have seen nothing of him. I
know, however, that he has engaged the State apartments, and also
a suite adjoining the State apartments - No. 55. That is so, isn't it,

'Yes, Papa,' she said, having first demurely examined a ledger.
'Your Highness would doubtless like to be conducted to your room
- apartments I mean.' Then Nella laughed deliberately at the
Prince, and said, 'I don't know who is the proper person to conduct
you, and that's a fact. The truth is that Papa and I are rather raw yet
in the hotel line. You see, we only bought the place last night.'

'You have bought the hotel!' exclaimed the Prince.

'That's so,' said Racksole.

'And Felix Babylon has gone?'

'He is going, if he has not already gone.'

'Ah! I see,' said the Prince; 'this is one of your American "strokes".
You have bought to sell again, is that not it? You are on your
holidays, but you cannot resist making a few thousands by way of
relaxation. I have heard of such things.'

'We sha'n't sell again, Prince, until we are tired of our bargain.
Sometimes we tire very quickly, and sometimes we don't. It
depends - eh? What?'

Racksole broke off suddenly to attend to a servant in livery who
had quietly entered the bureau and was making urgent mysterious
signs to him.

'If you please, sir,' the man by frantic gestures implored Mr
Theodore Racksole to come out.

'Pray don't let me detain you, Mr Racksole,' said the Prince, and
therefore the proprietor of the Grand Babylon departed after the
servant, with a queer, curt little bow to Prince Aribert.

'Mayn't I come inside?' said the Prince to Nella immediately the
millionaire had gone.

'Impossible, Prince,' Nella laughed. 'The rule against visitors
entering this bureau is frightfully strict.'

'How do you know the rule is so strict if you only came into
possession last night?'

'I know because I made the rule myself this morning, your

'But seriously, Miss Racksole, I want to talk to you.'

'Do you want to talk to me as Prince Aribert or as the friend - the
acquaintance - whom I knew in Paris' last year?'

'As the friend, dear lady, if I may use the term.'

'And you are sure that you would not like first to be conducted to
your apartments?'

'Not yet. I will wait till Dimmock comes; he cannot fail to be here

'Then we will have tea served in father's private room - the
proprietor's private room, you know.'

'Good!' he said.

Nella talked through a telephone, and rang several bells, and
behaved generally in a manner calculated to prove to Princes and
to whomever it might concern that she was a young woman of
business instincts and training, and then she stepped down from
her chair of office, emerged from the bureau, and, preceded by two
menials, led Prince Aribert to the Louis XV chamber in which her
father and Felix Babylon had had their long confabulation on the
previous evening.

'What do you want to talk to me about?' she asked her companion,
as she poured out for him a second cup of tea. The Prince looked
at her for a moment as he took the proffered cup, and being a
young man of sane, healthy, instincts, he could think of nothing for
the moment except her loveliness.

Nella was indeed beautiful that afternoon. The beauty of even the
most beautiful woman ebbs and flows from hour to hour. Nella's
this afternoon was at the flood. Vivacious, alert, imperious, and yet
ineffably sweet, she seemed to radiate the very joy and exuberance
of life.

'I have forgotten,' he said.

'You have forgotten! That is surely very wrong of you? You gave
me to understand that it was something terribly important. But of
course I knew it couldn't be, because no man, and especially no
Prince, ever discussed anything really important with a woman.'

'Recollect, Miss Racksole, that this aftemoon, here, I am not the

'You are Count Steenbock, is that it?'

He started. 'For you only,' he said, unconsciously lowering his
voice. 'Miss Racksole, I particularly wish that no one here should
know that I was in Paris last spring.'

'An affair of State?' she smiled.

'An affair of State,' he replied soberly. 'Even Dimmock doesn't
know. It was strange that we should be fellow guests at that quiet
out-of-the-way hotel - strange but delightful. I shall never forget
that rainy afternoon that we spent together in the Museum of the
Trocadéro. Let us talk about that.'

'About the rain, or the museum?'

'I shall never forget that afternoon,' he repeated, ignoring the
lightness of her question.

'Nor I,' she murmured corresponding to his mood.

'You, too enjoyed it?' he said eagerly.

'The sculptures were magnificent,' she replied, hastily glancing at
the ceiling.

'Ah! So they were! Tell me, Miss Racksole, how did you discover
my identity.'

'I must not say,' she answered. 'That is my secret. Do not seek to
penetrate it. Who knows what horrors you might discover if you
probed too far?' She laughed, but she laughed alone. The Prince
remained pensive - as it were brooding.

'I never hoped to see you again,' he said.

'Why not?'

'One never sees again those whom one wishes to see.'

'As for me, I was perfectly convinced that we should meet again.'


'Because I always get what I want.'

'Then you wanted to see me again?'

'Certainly. You interested me extremely. I have never met another
man who could talk so well about sculpture as the Count

'Do you really always get what you want, Miss Racksole?'

'Of course.'

'That is because your father is so rich, I suppose?'

'Oh, no, it isn't!' she said. 'It's simply because I always do get what I
want. It's got nothing to do with Father at all.'

'But Mr Racksole is extremely wealthy?'

'Wealthy isn't the word, Count. There is no word. It's positively
awful the amount of dollars poor Papa makes. And the worst of it
is he can't help it.

He told me once that when a man had made ten millions no power
on earth could stop those ten millions from growing into twenty.
And so it continues.

I spend what I can, but I can't come near coping with it; and of
course Papa is no use whatever at spending.'

'And you have no mother?'

'Who told you I had no mother?' she asked quietly.

'I - er - inquired about you,' he said, with equal candour and

'In spite of the fact that you never hoped to see me again?'

'Yes, in spite of that.'

'How funny!' she said, and lapsed into a meditative silence.

'Yours must be a wonderful existence,' said the Prince. 'I envy you.'

'You envy me - what? My father's wealth?'

'No,' he said; 'your freedom and your responsibilities.'

'I have no responsibilities,' she remarked.

'Pardon me,' he said; 'you have, and the time is coming when you
will feel them.'

'I'm only a girl,' she murmured with sudden simplicity. 'As for you,
Count, surely you have sufficient responsibilities of your own?'

'I?' he said sadly. 'I have no responsibilties. I am a nobody - a
Serene Highness who has to pretend to be very important, always
taking immense care never to do anything that a Serene Highness
ought not to do. Bah!'

'But if your nephew, Prince Eugen, were to die, would you not
come to the throne, and would you not then have these
responsibilities which you so much desire?'

'Eugen die?' said Prince Aribert, in a curious tone. 'Impossible. He
is the perfection of health. In three months he will be married. No,
I shall never be anything but a Serene Highness, the most
despicable of God's creatures.'

'But what about the State secret which you mentioned? Is not that a

'Ah!' he said. 'That is over. That belongs to the past. It was an
accident in my dull career. I shall never be Count Steenbock

'Who knows?' she said. 'By the way, is not Prince Eugen coming
here to-day? Mr Dimmock told us so.'

'See!' answered the Prince, standing up and bending over her. 'I am
going to confide in you. I don't know why, but I am.'

'Don't betray State secrets,' she warned him, smiling into his face.

But just then the door of the room was unceremoniously opened.

'Go right in,' said a voice sharply. It was Theodore Racksole's. Two
men entered, bearing a prone form on a stretcher, and Racksole
followed them.

Nella sprang up. Racksole stared to see his daughter.

'I didn't know you were in here, Nell. Here,' to the two men, 'out

'Why!' exclaimed Nella, gazing fearfully at the form on the
stretcher, 'it's Mr Dimmock!'

'It is,' her father acquiesced. 'He's dead,' he added laconically. 'I'd
have broken it to you more gently had I known. Your pardon,
Prince.' There was a pause.

'Dimmock dead!' Prince Aribert whispered under his breath, and he
kneeled down by the side of the stretcher. 'What does this mean?'

The poor fellow was just walking across the quadrangle towards
the portico when he fell down. A commissionaire who saw him
says he was walking very quickly. At first I thought it was
sunstroke, but it couldn't have been, though the weather certainly
is rather warm. It must be heart disease. But anyhow, he's dead.
We did what we could. I've sent for a doctor, and for the police. I
suppose there'll have to be an inquest.'

Theodore Racksole stopped, and in an awkward solemn silence
they all gazed at the dead youth. His features were slightly drawn,
and his eyes closed; that was all. He might have been asleep.

'My poor Dimmock!' exclaimed the Prince, his voice broken. 'And
I was angry because the lad did not meet me at Charing Cross!'

'Are you sure he is dead, Father?' Nella said.

'You'd better go away, Nella,' was Racksole's only reply; but the
girl stood still, and began to sob quietly. On the previous night she
had secretly made fun of Reginald Dimmock. She had deliberately
set herself to get information from him on a topic in which she
happened to be specially interested and she had got it, laughing the
while at his youthful crudities - his vanity, his transparent cunning,
his abusurd airs. She had not liked him; she had even distrusted
him, and decided that he was not 'nice'. But now, as he lay on the
stretcher, these things were forgotten. She went so far as to
reproach herself for them. Such is the strange commanding power
of death.

'Oblige me by taking the poor fellow to my apartments,' said the
Prince, with a gesture to the attendants. 'Surely it is time the doctor

Racksole felt suddenly at that moment he was nothing but a mere
hotel proprietor with an awkward affair on his hands. For a
fraction of a second he wished he had never bought the Grand

A quarter of an hour later Prince Aribert, Theodore Racksole, a
doctor, and an inspector of police were in the Prince's
reception-room. They had just come from an ante-chamber, in
which lay the mortal remains of Reginald Dimmock.

'Well?' said Racksole, glancing at the doctor.

The doctor was a big, boyish-looking man, with keen, quizzical

'It is not heart disease,' said the doctor.

'Not heart disease?'


'Then what is it?' asked the Prince.

'I may be able to answer that question after the post-mortem,' said
the doctor. 'I certainly can't answer it now. The symptoms are
unusual to a degree.'

The inspector of police began to write in a note-book. _



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