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The Grand Babylon Hotel, a novel by Arnold Bennett


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_ 'MR SAMPSON LEVI wishes to see you, sir.'

These words, spoken by a servant to Theodore Racksole, aroused
the millionaire from a reverie which had been the reverse of
pleasant. The fact was, and it is necessary to insist on it, that Mr
Racksole, owner of the Grand Babylon Hotel, was by no means in
a state of self-satisfaction. A mystery had attached itself to his
hotel, and with all his acumen and knowledge of things in general
he was unable to solve that mystery. He laughed at the fruitless
efforts of the police, but he could not honestly say that his own
efforts had been less barren. The public was talking, for, after all,
the disappearance of poor Dimmock's body had got noised abroad
in an indirect sort of way, and Theodore Racksole did not like the
idea of his impeccable hotel being the subject of sinister rumours.
He wondered, grimly, what the public and the Sunday newspapers
would say if they were aware of all the other phenomena, not yet
common property: of Miss Spencer's disappearance, of Jules'
strange visits, and of the non-arrival of Prince Eugen of Posen.
Theodore Racksole had worried his brain without result. He had
conducted an elaborate private investigation without result, and he
had spent a certain amount of money without result. The police
said that they had a clue; but Racksole remarked that it was always
the business of the police to have a clue, that they seldom had
more than a clue, and that a clue without some sequel to it was a
pretty stupid business. The only sure thing in the whole affair was
that a cloud rested over his hotel, his beautiful new toy, the finest
of its kind. The cloud was not interfering with business, but,
nevertheless, it was a cloud, and he fiercely resented its presence;
perhaps it would be more correct to say that he fiercely resented
his inability to dissipate it.

'Mr Sampson Levi wishes to see you, sir,' the servant repeated,
having received no sign that his master had heard him.

'So I hear,' said Racksole. 'Does he want to see me, personally?'

'He asked for you, sir.'

'Perhaps it is Rocco he wants to see, about a menu or something of
that kind?'

'I will inquire, sir,' and the servant made a move to withdraw.

'Stop,' Racksole commanded suddenly. 'Desire Mr Sampson Levi
to step this way.'

The great stockbroker of the 'Kaffir Circus' entered with a simple
unassuming air. He was a rather short, florid man, dressed like a
typical Hebraic financier, with too much watch-chain and too little
waistcoat. In his fat hand he held a gold-headed cane, and an
absolutely new silk hat - for it was Friday, and Mr Levi purchased
a new hat every Friday of his life, holiday times only excepted. He
breathed heavily and sniffed through his nose a good deal, as
though he had just performed some Herculean physical labour. He
glanced at the American millionaire with an expression in which a
slight embarrassment might have been detected, but at the same
time his round, red face disclosed a certain frank admiration and
good nature.

'Mr Racksole, I believe - Mr Theodore Racksole. Proud to meet
you, sir.'

Such were the first words of Mr Sampson Levi. In form they were
the greeting of a third-rate chimney-sweep, but, strangely enough,
Theodore Racksole liked their tone. He said to himself that here,
precisely where no one would have expected to find one, was an
honest man.

'Good day,' said Racksole briefly. 'To what do I owe the pleasure - '

'I expect your time is limited,' answered Sampson Levi. 'Anyhow,
mine is, and so I'll come straight to the point, Mr Racksole. I'm a
plain man. I don't pretend to be a gentleman or any nonsense of
that kind. I'm a stockbroker, that's what I am, and I don't care who
knows it. The other night I had a ball in this hotel. It cost me a
couple of thousand and odd pounds, and, by the way, I wrote out a
cheque for your bill this morning. I don't like balls, but they're
useful to me, and my little wife likes 'em, and so we give 'em.
Now, I've nothing to say against the hotel management as regards
that ball: it was very decently done, very decently, but what I want
to know is this - Why did you have a private detective among my

'A private detective?' exclaimed Racksole, somewhat surprised at
this charge.

'Yes,' Mr Sampson Levi said firmly, fanning himself in his chair,
and gazing at Theodore Racksole with the direct earnest
expression of a man having a grievance. 'Yes; a private detective.
It's a small matter, I know, and I dare say you think you've got a
right, as proprietor of the show, to do what you like in that line;
but I've just called to tell you that I object. I've called as a matter of
principle. I'm not angry; it's the principle of the thing.'

'My dear Mr Levi,' said Racksole, 'I assure you that, having let the
Gold Room to a private individual for a private entertainment, I
should never dream of doing what you suggest.'

'Straight?' asked Mr Sampson Levi, using his own picturesque

'Straight,' said Racksole smiling.

'There was a gent present at my ball that I didn't ask. I've got a
wonderful memory for faces, and I know. Several fellows asked
me afterwards what he was doing there. I was told by someone that
he was one of your waiters, but I didn't believe that. I know
nothing of the Grand Babylon; it's not quite my style of tavern, but
I don't think you'd send one of your own waiters to watch my
guests - unless, of course, you sent him as a waiter; and this chap
didn't do any waiting, though he did his share of drinking.'

'Perhaps I can throw some light on this mystery,' said Racksole. 'I
may tell you that I was already aware that man had attended your
ball uninvited.'

'How did you get to know?'

'By pure chance, Mr Levi, and not by inquiry. That man was a
former waiter at this hotel - the head waiter, in fact - Jules. No
doubt you have heard of him.'

'Not I,' said Mr Levi positively.

'Ah!' said Racksole, 'I was informed that everyone knew Jules, but
it appears not. Well, be that as it may, previously to the night of
your ball, I had dismissed Jules. I had ordered him never to enter
the Babylon again.

But on that evening I encountered him here - not in the Gold
Room, but in the hotel itself. I asked him to explain his presence,
and he stated he was your guest. That is all I know of the matter,
Mr Levi, and I am extremely sorry that you should have thought
me capable of the enormity of placing a private detective among
your guests.'

'This is perfectly satisfactory to me,' Mr Sampson Levi said, after a

'I only wanted an explanation, and I've got it. I was told by some
pals of mine in the City I might rely on Mr Theodore Racksole
going straight to the point, and I'm glad they were right. Now as to
that feller Jules, I shall make my own inquiries as to him. Might I
ask you why you dismissed him?'

'I don't know why I dismissed him.'

'You don't know? Oh! come now! I'm only asking because I
thought you might be able to give me a hint why he turned up
uninvited at my ball. Sorry if I'm too inquisitive.'

'Not at all, Mr Levi; but I really don't know. I only sort of felt that
he was a suspicious character. I dismissed him on instinct, as it
were. See?'

Without answering this question Mr Levi asked another. 'If this
Jules is such a well-known person,' he said, 'how could the feller
hope to come to my ball without being recognized?'

'Give it up,' said Racksole promptly.

'Well, I'll be moving on,' was Mr Sampson Levi's next remark.
'Good day, and thank ye. I suppose you aren't doing anything in

Mr Racksole smiled a negative.

'I thought not,' said Levi. Well, I never touch American rails
myself, and so I reckon we sha'n't come across each other. Good

'Good day,' said Racksole politely, following Mr Sampson Levi to
the door.

With his hand on the handle of the door, Mr Levi stopped, and,
gazing at Theodore Racksole with a shrewd, quizzical expression,

'Strange things been going on here lately, eh?'

The two men looked very hard at each other for several seconds.

'Yes,' Racksole assented. 'Know anything about them?'

'Well - no, not exactly,' said Mr Levi. 'But I had a fancy you and I
might be useful to each other; I had a kind of fancy to that effect.'

'Come back and sit down again, Mr Levi,' Racksole said, attracted
by the evident straightforwardness of the man's tone. 'Now, how
can we be of service to each other? I flatter myself I'm something
of a judge of character, especially financial character, and I tell
you - if you'll put your cards on the table, I'll do ditto with mine.'

'Agreed,' said Mr Sampson Levi. 'I'll begin by explaining my
interest in your hotel. I have been expecting to receive a summons
from a certain Prince Eugen of Posen to attend him here, and that
summons hasn't arrived. It appears that Prince Eugen hasn't come
to London at all. Now, I could have taken my dying davy that he
would have been here yesterday at the latest.'

'Why were you so sure?'

'Question for question,' said Levi. 'Let's clear the ground first, Mr
Racksole. Why did you buy this hotel? That's a conundrum that's
been puzzling a lot of our fellows in the City for some days past.
Why did you buy the Grand Babylon? And what is the next move
to be?'

'There is no next move,' answered Racksole candidly, 'and I will
tell you why I bought the hotel; there need be no secret about it. I
bought it because of a whim.' And then Theodore Racksole gave
this little Jew, whom he had begun to respect, a faithful account of
the transaction with Mr Felix Babylon. 'I suppose,' he added, 'you
find a difficulty in appreciating my state of mind when I did the

'Not a bit,' said Mr Levi. 'I once bought an electric launch on the
Thames in a very similar way, and it turned out to be one of the
most satisfactory purchases I ever made. Then it's a simple
accident that you own this hotel at the present moment?'

'A simple accident - all because of a beefsteak and a bottle of

'Um!' grunted Mr Sampson Levi, stroking his triple chin.

'To return to Prince Eugen,' Racksole resumed. 'I was expecting
His Highness here. The State apartments had been prepared for
him. He was due on the very afternoon that young Dimmock died.
But he never came, and I have not heard why he has failed to
arrive; nor have I seen his name in the papers. What his business
was in London, I don't know.'

'I will tell you,' said Mr Sampson Levi, 'he was coming to arrange a

'A State loan?'

'No - a private loan.'

'Whom from?'

'From me, Sampson Levi. You look surprised. If you'd lived in
London a little longer, you'd know that I was just the person the
Prince would come to. Perhaps you aren't aware that down
Throgmorton Street way I'm called "The Court Pawnbroker",
because I arrange loans for the minor, second-class Princes of
Europe. I'm a stockbroker, but my real business is financing some
of the little Courts of Europe. Now, I may tell you that the
Hereditary Prince of Posen particularly wanted a million, and he
wanted it by a certain date, and he knew that if the affair wasn't
fixed up by a certain time here he wouldn't be able to get it by that
certain date. That's why I'm surprised he isn't in London.'

'What did he need a million for?'

'Debts,' answered Sampson Levi laconically.

'His own?'


'But he isn't thirty years of age?'

'What of that? He isn't the only European Prince who has run up a
million of debts in a dozen years. To a Prince the thing is as easy
as eating a sandwich.'

'And why has he taken this sudden resolution to liquidate them?'

'Because the Emperor and the lady's parents won't let him marry
till he has done so! And quite right, too! He's got to show a clean
sheet, or the Princess Anna of Eckstein-Schwartzburg will never
be Princess of Posen. Even now the Emperor has no idea how
much Prince Eugen's debts amount to. If he had - !'

'But would not the Emperor know of this proposed loan?'

'Not necessarily at once. It could be so managed. Twig?' Mr
Sampson Levi laughed. 'I've carried these little affairs through
before. After marriage it might be allowed to leak out. And you
know the Princess Anna's fortune is pretty big! Now, Mr Racksole,'
he added, abruptly changing his tone, 'where do you suppose
Prince Eugen has disappeared to? Because if he doesn't turn up
to-day he can't have that million. To-day is the last day.
To-morrow the money will be appropriated, elsewhere. Of course,
I'm not alone in this business, and my friends have something to

'You ask me where I think Prince Eugen has disappeared to?'

'I do.'

'Then you think it's a disappearance?'

Sampson Levi nodded. 'Putting two and two together,' he said, 'I
do. The Dimmock business is very peculiar - very peculiar, indeed.
Dimmock was a left-handed relation of the Posen family. Twig?
Scarcely anyone knows that.

He was made secretary and companion to Prince Aribert, just to
keep him in the domestic circle. His mother was an Irishwoman,
whose misfortune was that she was too beautiful. Twig?' (Mr
Sampson Levi always used this extraordinary word when he was in
a communicative mood.) 'My belief is that Dimmock's death has
something to do with the disappearance of Prince Eugen.

The only thing that passes me is this: Why should anyone want to
make Prince Eugen disappear? The poor little Prince hasn't an
enemy in the world. If he's been "copped", as they say, why has he
been "copped"? It won't do anyone any good.'

'Won't it?' repeated Racksole, with a sudden flash.

'What do you mean?' asked Mr Levi.

'I mean this: Suppose some other European pauper Prince was
anxious to marry Princess Anna and her fortune, wouldn't that
Prince have an interest in stopping this loan of yours to Prince
Eugen? Wouldn't he have an interest in causing Prince Eugen to
disappear - at any rate, for a time?'

Sampson Levi thought hard for a few moments.

'Mr Theodore Racksole,' he said at length, 'I do believe you have
hit on something.' _

Read next: CHAPTER 12 - ROCCO AND ROOM NO. 111

Read previous: CHAPTER 10 - AT SEA

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