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The Grand Babylon Hotel, a novel by Arnold Bennett


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_ ON the afternoon of the same day - the interview just described
had occurred in the morning - Racksole was visited by another
idea, and he said to himself that he ought to have thought of it
before. The conversation with Mr Sampson Levi had continued for
a considerable time, and the two men had exchanged various
notions, and agreed to meet again, but the theory that Reginald
Dimmock had probably been a traitor to his family - a traitor
whose repentance had caused his death - had not been thoroughly
discussed; the talk had tended rather to Continental politics, with a
view to discovering what princely family might have an interest in
the temporary disappearance of Prince Eugen. Now, as Racksole
considered in detail the particular affair of Reginald Dimmock,
deceased, he was struck by one point especially, to wit: Why had
Dimmock and Jules manoeuvred to turn Nella Racksole out of
Room No. 111 on that first night? That they had so manoeuvred,
that the broken window-pane was not a mere accident, Racksole
felt perfectly sure. He had felt perfectly sure all along; but the
significance of the facts had not struck him. It was plain to him
now that there must be something of extraordinary and peculiar
importance about Room No. 111. After lunch he wandered quietly
upstairs and looked at Room No. 111; that is to say, he looked at
the outside of it; it happened to be occupied, but the guest was
leaving that evening. The thought crossed his mind that there
could be no object in gazing blankly at the outside of a room; yet
he gazed; then he wandered quickly down again to the next floor,
and in passing along the corridor of that floor he stopped, and with
an involuntary gesture stamped his foot.

'Great Scott!' he said, 'I've got hold of something - No. 111 is
exactly over the State apartments.'

He went to the bureau, and issued instructions that No. 111 was
not to be re-let to anyone until further orders. At the bureau they
gave him Nella's note, which ran thus:

Dearest Papa, - I am going away for a day or two on the trail of a

If I'm not back in three days, begin to inquire for me at Ostend. Till
then leave me alone. - Your sagacious daughter, NELL.

These few words, in Nella's large scrawling hand, filled one side of
the paper. At the bottom was a P.T.O. He turned over, and read the
sentence, underlined, 'P.S. - Keep an eye on Rocco.'

'I wonder what the little creature is up to?' he murmured, as he tore
the letter into small fragments, and threw them into the
waste-paper basket.

Then, without any delay, he took the lift down to the basement,
with the object of making a preliminary inspection of Rocco in his
lair. He could scarcely bring himself to believe that this suave and
stately gentleman, this enthusiast of gastronomy, was concerned in
the machinations of Jules and other rascals unknown.
Nevertheless, from habit, he obeyed his daughter, giving her credit
for a certain amount of perspicuity and cleverness.

The kitchens of the Grand Babylon Hotel are one of the wonders
of Europe.

Only three years before the events now under narration Felix
Babylon had had them newly installed with every device and
patent that the ingenuity of two continents could supply. They
covered nearly an acre of superficial space.

They were walled and floored from end to end with tiles and
marble, which enabled them to be washed down every morning
like the deck of a man-of-war.

Visitors were sometimes taken to see the potato-paring machine,
the patent plate-dryer, the Babylon-spit (a contrivance of Felix
Babylon's own), the silver-grill, the system of connected
stock-pots, and other amazing phenomena of the department.
Sometimes, if they were fortunate, they might also see the artist
who sculptured ice into forms of men and beasts for table
ornaments, or the first napkin-folder in London, or the man who
daily invented fresh designs for pastry and blancmanges. Twelve
chefs pursued their labours in those kitchens, helped by ninety
assistant chefs, and a further army of unconsidered menials. Over
all these was Rocco, supreme and unapproachable. Half-way along
the suite of kitchens, Rocco had an apartment of his own, wherein
he thought out those magnificent combinations, those marvellous
feats of succulence and originality, which had given him his fame.
Vistors never caught a glimpse of Rocco in the kitchens, though
sometimes, on a special night, he would stroll nonchalantly
through the dining-room, like the great man he was, to receive the
compliments of the hotel habitués - people of insight who
recognized his uniqueness.

Theodore Racksole's sudden and unusual appearance in the kitchen
caused a little stir. He nodded to some of the chefs, but said
nothing to anyone, merely wandering about amid the maze of
copper utensils, and white-capped workers. At length he saw
Rocco, surrounded by several admiring chefs. Rocco was bending
over a freshly-roasted partridge which lay on a blue dish. He
plunged a long fork into the back of the bird, and raised it in the
air with his left hand. In his right he held a long glittering
carving-knife. He was giving one of his world-famous exhibitions
of carving. In four swift, unerring, delicate, perfect strokes he
cleanly severed the limbs of the partridge. It was a wonderful
achievement - how wondrous none but the really skilful carver can
properly appreciate. The chefs emitted a hum of applause, and
Rocco, long, lean, and graceful, retired to his own apartment.
Racksole followed him. Rocco sat in a chair, one hand over his
eyes; he had not noticed Theodore Racksole.

'What are you doing, M. Rocco?' the millionaire asked smiling.

exclaimed Rocco, starting up with an apology. 'Pardon! I was
inventing a new mayonnaise, which I shall need for a certain menu
next week.'

'Do you invent these things without materials, then?' questioned

'Certainly. I do dem in my mind. I tink dem. Why should I want
materials? I know all flavours. I tink, and tink, and tink, and it is
done. I write down.

I give the recipe to my best chef - dere you are. I need not even
taste, I know how it will taste. It is like composing music. De great
composers do not compose at de piano.'

'I see,' said Racksole.

'It is because I work like dat dat you pay me three thousand a year,'
Rocco added gravely.

'Heard about Jules?' said Racksole abruptly.


'Yes. He's been arrested in Ostend,' the millionaire continued, lying
cleverly at a venture. 'They say that he and several others are
implicated in a murder case - the murder of Reginald Dimmock.'

'Truly?' drawled Rocco, scarcely hiding a yawn. His indifference
was so superb, so gorgeous, that Racksole instantly divined that it
was assumed for the occasion.

'It seems that, after all, the police are good for something. But this
is the first time I ever knew them to be worth their salt. There is to
be a thorough and systematic search of the hotel to-morrow,'
Racksole went on. 'I have mentioned it to you to warn you that so
far as you are concerned the search is of course merely a matter of
form. You will not object to the detectives looking through your

'Certainly not,' and Rocco shrugged his shoulders.

'I shall ask you to say nothing about this to anyone,' said Racksole.
'The news of Jules' arrest is quite private to myself. The papers
know nothing of it. You comprehend?'

Rocco smiled in his grand manner, and Rocco's master thereupon
went away.

Racksole was very well satisfied with the little conversation. It was
perhaps dangerous to tell a series of mere lies to a clever fellow
like Rocco, and Racksole wondered how he should ultimately
explain them to this great master-chef if his and Nella's suspicions
should be unfounded, and nothing came of them. Nevertheless,
Rocco's manner, a strange elusive something in the man's eyes, had
nearly convinced Racksole that he was somehow implicated in
Jules' schemes - and probably in the death of Reginald Dimmock
and the disappearance of Prince Eugen of Posen.

That night, or rather about half-past one the next morning, when
the last noises of the hotel's life had died down, Racksole made his
way to Room 111 on the second floor. He locked the door on the
inside, and proceeded to examine the place, square foot by square
foot. Every now and then some creak or other sound startled him,
and he listened intently for a few seconds. The bedroom was
furnished in the ordinary splendid style of bedrooms at the Grand
Babylon Hotel, and in that respect called for no remark. What most
interested Racksole was the flooring. He pulled up the thick
Oriental carpet, and peered along every plank, but could discover
nothing unusual.

Then he went to the dressing-room, and finally to the bathroom,
both of which opened out of the main room. But in neither of these
smaller chambers was he any more successful than in the bedroom
itself. Finally he came to the bath, which was enclosed in a
panelled casing of polished wood, after the manner of baths. Some
baths have a cupboard beneath the taps, with a door at the side, but
this one appeared to have none. He tapped the panels, but not a
single one of them gave forth that 'curious hollow sound' which
usually betokens a secret place. Idly he turned the cold-tap of the
bath, and the water began to rush in. He turned off the cold-tap and
turned on the waste-tap, and as he did so his knee, which was
pressing against the panelling, slipped forward. The panelling had
given way, and he saw that one large panel was hinged from the
inside, and caught with a hasp, also on the inside. A large space
within the casing of the end of the bath was thus revealed. Before
doing anything else, Racksole tried to repeat the trick with the
waste-tap, but he failed; it would not work again, nor could he in
any way perceive that there was any connection between the rod of
the waste-tap and the hasp of the panel. Racksole could not see
into the cavity within the casing, and the electric light was fixed,
and could not be moved about like a candle. He felt in his pockets,
and fortunately discovered a box of matches. Aided by these, he
looked into the cavity, and saw nothing; nothing except a rather
large hole at the far end - some three feet from the casing. With
some difficulty he squeezed himself through the open panel, and
took a half-kneeling, half-sitting posture within. There he struck a
match, and it was a most unfortunate thing that in striking, the box
being half open, he set fire to all the matches, and was half
smothered in the atrocious stink of phosphorus which resulted.
One match burned clear on the floor of the cavity, and, rubbing his
eyes, Racksole picked it up, and looked down the hole which he
had previously descried. It was a hole apparently bottomless, and
about eighteen inches square. The curious part about the hole was
that a rope-ladder hung down it. When he saw that rope-ladder
Racksole smiled the smile of a happy man.

The match went out.

Should he make a long journey, perhaps to some distant corner of
the hotel, for a fresh box of matches, or should he attempt to
descend that rope-ladder in the dark? He decided on the latter
course, and he was the more strongly moved thereto as he could
now distinguish a faint, a very faint tinge of light at the bottom of
the hole.

With infinite care he compressed himself into the well-like hole,
and descended the latter. At length he arrived on firm ground,
perspiring, but quite safe and quite excited. He saw now that the
tinge of light came through a small hole in the wood. He put his
eye to the wood, and found that he had a fine view of the State
bathroom, and through the door of the State bathroom into the
State bedroom. At the massive marble-topped washstand in the
State bedroom a man was visible, bending over some object which
lay thereon.

The man was Rocco! _



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