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The Grand Babylon Hotel, a novel by Arnold Bennett


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_ IT appeared impossible to Theodore Racksole that so cumbrous an
article as a corpse could be removed out of his hotel, with no trace,
no hint, no clue as to the time or the manner of the performance of
the deed. After the first feeling of surprise, Racksole grew coldly
and severely angry. He had a mind to dismiss the entire staff of the
hotel. He personally examined the night-watchman, the
chambermaids and all other persons who by chance might or ought
to know something of the affair; but without avail. The corpse of
Reginald Dimmock had vanished utterly - disappeared like a
fleshless spirit.

Of course there were the police. But Theodore Racksole held the
police in sorry esteem. He acquainted them with the facts,
answered their queries with a patient weariness, and expected,
nothing whatever from that quarter. He also had several interviews
with Prince Aribert of Posen, but though the Prince was suavity
itself and beyond doubt genuinely concerned about the fate of his
dead attendant, yet it seemed to Racksole that he was keeping
something back, that he hesitated to say all he knew. Racksole,
with characteristic insight, decided that the death of Reginald
Dimmock was only a minor event, which had occurred, as it were,
on the fringe of some far more profound mystery. And, therefore,
he decided to wait, with his eyes very wide open, until something
else happened that would throw light on the business. At the
moment he took only one measure - he arranged that the theft of
Dimmock's body should not appear in the newspapers. It is
astonishing how well a secret can be kept, when the possessors of
the secret are handled with the proper mixture of firmness and
persuasion. Racksole managed this very neatly. It was a
complicated job, and his success in it rather pleased him.

At the same time he was conscious of being temporarily worsted
by an unknown group of schemers, in which he felt convinced that
Jules was an important item. He could scarcely look Nella in the
eyes. The girl had evidently expected him to unmask this
conspiracy at once, with a single stroke of the millionaire's magic
wand. She was thoroughly accustomed, in the land of her birth, to
seeing him achieve impossible feats. Over there he was a 'boss';
men trembled before his name; when he wished a thing to happen -
well, it happened; if he desired to know a thing, he just knew it.
But here, in London, Theodore Racksole was not quite the same
Theodore Racksole. He dominated New York; but London, for the
most part, seemed not to take much interest in him; and there were
certainly various persons in London who were capable of snapping
their fingers at him - at Theodore Racksole. Neither he nor his
daughter could get used to that fact.

As for Nella, she concerned herself for a little with the ordinary
business of the bureau, and watched the incomings and outgoings
of Prince Aribert with a kindly interest. She perceived, what her
father had failed to perceive, that His Highness had assumed an
attitude of reserve merely to hide the secret distraction and dismay
which consumed him. She saw that the poor fellow had no settled
plan in his head, and that he was troubled by something which, so
far, he had confided to nobody. It came to her knowledge that each
morning he walked to and fro on the Victoria Embankment, alone,
and apparently with no object. On the third morning she decided
that driving exercise on the Embankment would be good for her
health, and thereupon ordered a carriage and issued forth, arrayed
in a miraculous putty-coloured gown. Near Blackfriars Bridge she
met the Prince, and the carriage was drawn up by the pavement.

'Good morning, Prince,' she greeted him. 'Are you mistaking this
for Hyde Park?'

He bowed and smiled.

'I usually walk here in the mornings,' he said.

'You surprise me,' she returned. 'I thought I was the only person in
London who preferred the Embankment, with this view of the
river, to the dustiness of Hyde Park. I can't imagine how it is that
London will never take exercise anywhere except in that ridiculous
Park. Now, if they had Central Park - '

'I think the Embankment is the finest spot in all London,' he said.

She leaned a little out of the landau, bringing her face nearer to

'I do believe we are kindred spirits, you and I,' she murmured; and
then, 'Au revoir, Prince!'

'One moment, Miss Racksole.' His quick tones had a note of

'I am in a hurry,' she fibbed; 'I am not merely taking exercise this
morning. You have no idea how busy we are.'

'Ah! then I will not trouble you. But I leave the Grand Babylon

'Do you?' she said. 'Then will your Highness do me the honour of
lunching with me today in Father's room? Father will be out - he is
having a day in the City with some stockbroking persons.'

'I shall be charmed,' said the Prince, and his face showed that he
meant it.

Nella drove off.

If the lunch was a success that result was due partly to Rocco, and
partly to Nella. The Prince said little beyond what the ordinary
rules of the conversational game demanded. His hostess talked
much and talked well, but she failed to rouse her guest. When they
had had coffee he took a rather formal leave of her.

'Good-bye, Prince,' she said, 'but I thought - that is, no I didn't.


'You thought I wished to discuss something with you. I did; but I
have decided that I have no right to burden your mind with my

'But suppose - suppose I wish to be burdened?'

'That is your good nature.'

'Sit down,' she said abruptly, 'and tell me everything; mind,
everything. I adore secrets.'

Almost before he knew it he was talking to her, rapidly, eagerly.

'Why should I weary you with my confidences?' he said. 'I don't
know, I cannot tell; but I feel that I must. I feel that you will
understand me better than anyone else in the world. And yet why
should you understand me? Again, I don't know. Miss Racksole, I
will disclose to you the whole trouble in a word. Prince Eugen, the
hereditary Grand Duke of Posen, has disappeared. Four days ago I
was to have met him at Ostend. He had affairs in London. He
wished me to come with him. I sent Dimmock on in front, and
waited for Eugen. He did not arrive. I telegraphed back to
Cologne, his last stopping-place, and I learned that he had left
there in accordance with his programme; I leamed also that he had
passed through Brussels. It must have been between Brussels and
the railway station at Ostend Quay that he disappeared. He was
travelling with a single equerry, and the equerry, too, has vanished.
I need not explain to you, Miss Racksole, that when a person of the
importance of my nephew contrives to get lost one must proceed
cautiously. One cannot advertise for him in the London Times.
Such a disappearance must be kept secret. The people at Posen and
at Berlin believe that Eugen is in London, here, at this hotel; or,
rather, they did so believe. But this morning I received a cypher
telegram from - from His Majesty the Emperor, a very peculiar
telegram, asking when Eugen might be expected to return to
Posen, and requesting that he should go first to Berlin. That
telegram was addressed to myself. Now, if the Emperor thought
that Eugen was here, why should he have caused the telegram to
be addressed to me? I have hesitated for three days, but I can
hesitate no longer. I must myself go to the Emperor and acquaint
him with the facts.'

'I suppose you've just got to keep straight with him?' Nella was on
the point of saying, but she checked herself and substituted, 'The
Emperor is your chief, is he not? "First among equals", you call

'His Majesty is our over-lord,' said Aribert quietly.

'Why do you not take immediate steps to inquire as to the
whereabouts of your Royal nephew?' she asked simply. The affair
seemed to her just then so plain and straightforward.

'Because one of two things may have happened. Either Eugen may
have been, in plain language, abducted, or he may have had his
own reasons for changing his programme and keeping in the
background - out of reach of telegraph and post and railways.'

'What sort of reasons?'

'Do not ask me. In the history of every family there are passages - '
He stopped.

'And what was Prince Eugen's object in coming to London?'

Aribert hesitated.

'Money,' he said at length. 'As a family we are very poor - poorer
than anyone in Berlin suspects.'

'Prince Aribert,' Nella said, 'shall I tell you what I think?' She
leaned back in her chair, and looked at him out of half-closed eyes.
His pale, thin, distinguished face held her gaze as if by some
fascination. There could be no mistaking this man for anything
else but a Prince.

'If you will,' he said.

'Prince Eugen is the victim of a plot.'

'You think so?'

'I am perfectly convinced of it.'

'But why? What can be the object of a plot against him?'

'That is a point of which you should know more than me,' she
remarked drily.

'Ah! Perhaps, perhaps,' he said. 'But, dear Miss Racksole, why are
you so sure?'

'There are several reasons, and they are connected with Mr
Dimmock. Did you ever suspect, your Highness, that that poor
young man was not entirely loyal to you?'

'He was absolutely loyal,' said the Prince, with all the earnestness
of conviction.

'A thousand pardons, but he was not.'

'Miss Racksole, if any other than yourself made that assertion, I
would - I would - '

'Consign them to the deepest dungeon in Posen?' she laughed,

'Listen.' And she told him of the incidents which had occurred in
the night preceding his arrival in the hotel.

'Do you mean, Miss Racksole, that there was an understanding
between poor Dimmock and this fellow Jules?'

'There was an understanding.'


'Your Highness, the man who wishes to probe a mystery to its root
never uses the word "impossible". But I will say this for young Mr
Dimmock. I think he repented, and I think that it was because he
repented that he - er - died so suddenly, and that his body was
spirited away.'

'Why has no one told me these things before?' Aribert exclaimed.

'Princes seldom hear the truth,' she said.

He was astonished at her coolness, her firmness of assertion, her
air of complete acquaintance with the world.

'Miss Racksole,' he said, 'if you will permit me to say it, I have
never in my life met a woman like you. May I rely on your
sympathy - your support?'

'My support, Prince? But how?'

'I do not know,' he replied. 'But you could help me if you would. A
woman, when she has brain, always has more brain than a man.'

'Ah!' she said ruefully, 'I have no brains, but I do believe I could
help you.'

What prompted her to make that assertion she could not have
explained, even to herself. But she made it, and she had a
suspicion - a prescience - that it would be justified, though by what
means, through what good fortune, was still a mystery to her.

'Go to Berlin,' she said. 'I see that you must do that; you have no
alternative. As for the rest, we shall see. Something will occur. I
shall be here. My father will be here. You must count us as your

He kissed her hand when he left, and afterwards, when she was
alone, she kissed the spot his lips had touched again and again.
Now, thinking the matter out in the calmness of solitude, all
seemed strange, unreal, uncertain to her. Were conspiracies
actually possible nowadays? Did queer things actually happen in
Europe? And did they actually happen in London hotels? She
dined with her father that night.

'I hear Prince Aribert has left,' said Theodore Racksole.

'Yes,' she assented. She said not a word about their interview. _


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