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The Grand Babylon Hotel, a novel by Arnold Bennett


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_ 'YOU - you're only doing that to frighten me,' stammered Miss
Spencer, in a low, quavering voice.

'Am I?' Nella replied, as firmly as she could, though her hand
shook violently with excitement, could Miss Spencer but have
observed it. 'Am I? You said just now that I might be a Yankee
girl, but I was a fool. Well, I am a Yankee girl, as you call it; and
in my country, if they don't teach revolver-shooting in
boarding-schools, there are at least a lot of girls who can handle a
revolver. I happen to be one of them. I tell you that if you ring that
bell you will suffer.'

Most of this was simple bluff on Nella's part, and she trembled lest
Miss Spencer should perceive that it was simple bluff. Happily for
her, Miss Spencer belonged to that order of women who have
every sort of courage except physical courage. Miss Spencer could
have withstood successfully any moral trial, but persuade her that
her skin was in danger, and she would succumb. Nella at once
divined this useful fact, and proceeded accordingly, hiding the
strangeness of her own sensations as well as she could.

'You had better sit down now,' said Nella, 'and I will ask you a few

And Miss Spencer obediently sat down, rather white, and trying to
screw her lips into a formal smile.

'Why did you leave the Grand Babylon that night?' Nella began her
examination, putting on a stern, barrister-like expression.

'I had orders to, Miss Racksole.'

'Whose orders?'

'Well, I'm - I'm - the fact is, I'm a married woman, and it was my
husband's orders.'

'Who is your husband? 'Tom Jackson - Jules, you know, head
waiter at the Grand Babylon.'

'So Jules's real name is Tom Jackson? Why did he want you to
leave without giving notice?'

'I'm sure I don't know, Miss Racksole. I swear I don't know. He's
my husband, and, of course, I do what he tells me, as you will
some day do what your husband tells you. Please heaven you'll get
a better husband than mine!'

Miss Spencer showed a sign of tears.

Nella fingered the revolver, and put it at full cock. 'Well,' she
repeated, 'why did he want you to leave?' She was tremendously
surprised at her own coolness, and somewhat pleased with it, too.

'I can't tell you, I can't tell you.'

'You've just got to,' Nella said, in a terrible, remorseless tone.

'He - he wished me to come over here to Ostend. Something had
gone wrong.

Oh! he's a fearful man, is Tom. If I told you, he'd - '

'Had something gone wrong in the hotel, or over here?'


'Was it about Prince Eugen of Posen?'

'I don't know - that is, yes, I think so.'

'What has your husband to do with Prince Eugen?'

'I believe he has some - some sort of business with him, some
money business.'

'And was Mr Dimmock in this business? 'I fancy so, Miss
Racksole. I'm telling you all I know, that I swear.'

'Did your husband and Mr Dimmock have a quarrel that night in
Room 111?'

'They had some difficulty.'

'And the result of that was that you came to Ostend instantly?'

'Yes; I suppose so.'

'And what were you to do in Ostend? What were your instructions
from this husband of yours?'

Miss Spencer's head dropped on her arms on the table which
separated her from Nella, and she appeared to sob violently.

'Have pity on me,' she murmured, 'I can't tell you any more.'


'He'd kill me if he knew.'

'You're wandering from the subject,' observed Nella coldly. 'This is
the last time I shall warn you. Let me tell you plainly I've got the
best reasons for being desperate, and if anything happens to you I
shall say I did it in sell-defence. Now, what were you to do in

'I shall die for this anyhow,' whined Miss Spencer, and then, with a
sort of fierce despair, 'I had to keep watch on Prince Eugen.'

'Where? In this house?'

Miss Spencer nodded, and, looking up, Nella could see the traces
of tears in her face.

'Then Prince Eugen was a prisoner? Some one had captured him at
the instigation of Jules?'

'Yes, if you must have it.'

'Why was it necessary for you specially to come to Ostend?'

'Oh! Tom trusts me. You see, I know Ostend. Before I took that
place at the Grand Babylon I had travelled over Europe, and Tom
knew that I knew a thing or two.'

'Why did you take the place at the Grand Babylon?'

'Because Tom told me to. He said I should be useful to him there.'

'Is your husband an Anarchist, or something of that kind, Miss

'I don't know. I'd tell you in a minute if I knew. But he's one of
those that keep themselves to themselves.'

'Do you know if he has ever committed a murder? 'Never!' said
Miss Spencer, with righteous repudiation of the mere idea.

'But Mr Dimmock was murdered. He was poisoned. If he had not
been poisoned why was his body stolen? It must have been stolen
to prevent inquiry, to hide traces. Tell me about that.'

'I take my dying oath,' said Miss Spencer, standing up a little way
from the table, 'I take my dying oath I didn't know Mr Dimmock
was dead till I saw it in the newspaper.'

'You swear you had no suspicion of it?'

'I swear I hadn't.'

Nella was inclined to believe the statement. The woman and the
girl looked at each other in the tawdry, frowsy, lamp-lit room.
Miss Spencer nervously patted her yellow hair into shape, as if
gradually recovering her composure and equanimity. The whole
affair seemed like a dream to Nella, a disturbing, sinister
nightmare. She was a little uncertain what to say. She felt that she
had not yet got hold of any very definite information. 'Where is
Prince Eugen now?' she asked at length.

'I don't know, miss.'

'He isn't in this house?'

'No, miss.'

'Ah! We will see presently.'

'They took him away, Miss Racksole.'

'Who took him away? Some of your husband's friends?'

'Some of his - acquaintances.'

'Then there is a gang of you?'

'A gang of us - a gang! I don't know what you mean,' Miss Spencer

'Oh, but you must know,' smiled Nella calmly. 'You can't possibly
be so innocent as all that, Mrs Tom Jackson. You can't play games
with me. You've just got to remember that I'm what you call a
Yankee girl. There's one thing that I mean to find out, within the
next five minutes, and that is - how your charming husband
kidnapped Prince Eugen, and why he kidnapped him. Let us begin
with the second question. You have evaded it once.'

Miss Spencer looked into Nella's face, and then her eyes dropped,
and her fingers worked nervously with the tablecloth.

'How can I tell you,' she said, 'when I don't know? You've got the
whip-hand of me, and you're tormenting me for your own
pleasure.' She wore an expression of persecuted innocence.

'Did Mr Tom Jackson want to get some money out of Prince

'Money! Not he! Tom's never short of money.'

'But I mean a lot of money - tens of thousands, hundreds of

'Tom never wanted money from anyone,' said Miss Spencer

'Then had he some reason for wishing to prevent Prince Eugen
from coming to London?'

'Perhaps he had. I don't know. If you kill me, I don't know.' Nella
stopped to reflect. Then she raised the revolver. It was a
mechanical, unintentional sort of action, and certainly she had no
intention of using the weapon, but, strange to say, Miss Spencer
again cowered before it. Even at that moment Nella wondered that
a woman like Miss Spencer could be so simple as to think the
revolver would actually be used. Having absolutely no physical
cowardice herself, Nella had the greatest difficulty in imagining
that other people could be at the mercy of a bodily fear. Still, she
saw her advantage, and used it relentlessly, and with as much
theatrical gesture as she could command. She raised the revolver
till it was level with Miss Spencer's face, and suddenly a new,
queer feeling took hold of her. She knew that she would indeed
use that revolver now, if the miserable woman before her drove
her too far. She felt afraid - afraid of herself; she was in the grasp
of a savage, primeval instinct. In a flash she saw Miss Spencer
dead at her feet - the police - a court of justice - the scaffold. It was

'Speak,' she said hoarsely, and Miss Spencer's face went whiter.

'Tom did say,' the woman whispered rapidly, awesomely, 'that if
Prince Eugen got to London it would upset his scheme.'

'What scheme? What scheme? Answer me.'

'Heaven help me, I don't know.' Miss Spencer sank into a chair. 'He
said Mr Dimmock had turned tail, and he should have to settle him
and then Rocco - '

'Rocco! What about Rocco?' Nella could scarcely hear herself. Her
grip of the revolver tightened.

Miss Spencer's eyes opened wider; she gazed at Nella with a glassy

'Don't ask me. It's death!' Her eyes were fixed as if in horror.

'It is,' said Nella, and the sound of her voice seemed to her to issue
from the lips of some third person.

'It's death,' repeated Miss Spencer, and gradually her head and
shoulders sank back, and hung loosely over the chair. Nella was
conscious of a sudden revulsion. The woman had surely fainted.
Dropping the revolver she ran round the table. She was herself
again - feminine, sympathetic, the old Nella. She felt immensely
relieved that this had happened. But at the same instant Miss
Spencer sprang up from the chair like a cat, seized the revolver,
and with a wild movement of the arm flung it against the window.
It crashed through the glass, exploding as it went, and there was a
tense silence.

'I told you that you were a fool,' remarked Miss Spencer slowly,
'coming here like a sort of female Jack Sheppard, and trying to get
the best of me.

We are on equal terms now. You frightened me, but I knew I was a
cleverer woman than you, and that in the end, if I kept on long
enough, I should win.

Now it will be my turn.'

Dumbfounded, and overcome with a miserable sense of the truth
of Miss Spencer's words, Nella stood still. The idea of her colossal
foolishness swept through her like a flood. She felt almost
ashamed. But even at this juncture she had no fear. She faced the
woman bravely, her mind leaping about in search of some plan.
She could think of nothing but a bribe - an enormous bribe.

'I admit you've won,' she said, 'but I've not finished yet. Just listen.'

Miss Spencer folded her arms, and glanced at the door, smiling

'You know my father is a millionaire; perhaps you know that he is
one of the richest men in the world. If I give you my word of
honour not to reveal anything that you've told me, what will you
take to let me go free?'

'What sum do you suggest?' asked Miss Spencer carelessly.

'Twenty thousand pounds,' said Nella promptly. She had begun to
regard the affair as a business operation.

Miss Spencer's lip curled.

'A hundred thousand.'

Again Miss Spencer's lip curled.

'Well, say a million. I can rely on my father, and so may you.'

'You think you are worth a million to him?'

'I do,' said Nella.

'And you think we could trust you to see that it was paid?'

'Of course you could.'

'And we should not suffer afterwards in any way?'

'I would give you my word, and my father's word.'

'Bah!' exclaimed Miss Spencer: 'how do you know I wouldn't let
you go free for nothing? You are only a rash, silly girl.'

'I know you wouldn't. I can read your face too well.'

'You are right,' Miss Spencer replied slowly. 'I wouldn't. I wouldn't
let you go for all the dollars in America.'

Nella felt cold down the spine, and sat down again in her chair. A
draught of air from the broken window blew on her cheek. Steps
sounded in the passage; the door opened, but Nella did not turn
round. She could not move her eyes from Miss Spencer's. There
was a noise of rushing water in her ears. She lost consciousness,
and slipped limply to the ground. _

Read next: CHAPTER 10 - AT SEA


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