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The Grand Babylon Hotel, a novel by Arnold Bennett


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_ ROCCO turned round with the swiftness of a startled tiger, and
gave Theodore Racksole one long piercing glance.

'D--n!' said Rocco, with as pure an Anglo-Saxon accent and
intonation as Racksole himself could have accomplished.

The most extraordinary thing about the situation was that at this
juncture Theodore Racksole did not know what to say. He was so
dumbfounded by the affair, and especially by Rocco's absolute and
sublime calm, that both speech and thought failed him.

'I give in,' said Rocco. 'From the moment you entered this cursed
hotel I was afraid of you. I told Jules I was afraid of you. I knew
there would be trouble with a man of your kidney, and I was right;
confound it! I tell you I give in. I know when I'm beaten. I've got
no revolver and no weapons of any kind. I surrender. Do what you

And with that Rocco sat down on a chair. It was magnificently
done. Only a truly great man could have done it. Rocco actually
kept his dignity.

For answer, Racksole walked slowly into the vast apartment,
seized a chair, and, dragging it up to Rocco's chair, sat down
opposite to him. Thus they faced each other, their knees almost
touching, both in evening dress. On Rocco's right hand was the
bed, with the corpse of Reginald Dimmock. On Racksole's right
hand, and a little behind him, was the marble washstand, still
littered with Rocco's implements. The electric light shone on
Rocco's left cheek, leaving the other side of his face in shadow.
Racksole tapped him on the knee twice.

'So you're another Englishman masquerading as a foreigner in my

Racksole remarked, by way of commencing the interrogation.

'I'm not,' answered Rocco quietly. 'I'm a citizen of the United

'The deuce you are!' Racksole exclaimed.

'Yes, I was born at West Orange, New Jersey, New York State. I
call myself an Italian because it was in Italy that I first made a
name as a chef - at Rome. It is better for a great chef like me to be
a foreigner. Imagine a great chef named Elihu P. Rucker. You can't
imagine it. I changed my nationality for the same reason that my
friend and colleague, Jules, otherwise Mr Jackson, changed his.'

'So Jules is your friend and colleague, is he?'

'He was, but from this moment he is no longer. I began to
disapprove of his methods no less than a week ago, and my
disapproval will now take active form.'

'Will it?' said Racksole. 'I calculate it just won't, Mr Elihu P.
Rucker, citizen of the United States. Before you are very much
older you'll be in the kind hands of the police, and your activities,
in no matter what direction, will come to an abrupt conclusion.'

'It is possible,' sighed Rocco.

'In the meantime, I'll ask you one or two questions for my own
private satisfaction. You've acknowledged that the game is up, and
you may as well answer them with as much candour as you feel
yourself capable of. See?'

'I see,' replied Rocco calmly, 'but I guess I can't answer all

I'll do what I can.'

'Well,' said Racksole, clearing his throat, 'what's the scheme all
about? Tell me in a word.'

'Not in a thousand words. It isn't my secret, you know.'

'Why was poor little Dimmock poisoned?' The millionaire's voice
softened as he looked for an instant at the corpse of the
unfortunate young man.

'I don't know,' said Rocco. 'I don't mind informing you that I
objected to that part of the business. I wasn't made aware of it till
after it was done, and then I tell you it got my dander up

'You mean to say you don't know why Dimmock was done to

'I mean to say I couldn't see the sense of it. Of course he - er - died,
because he sort of cried off the scheme, having previously taken a
share of it. I don't mind saying that much, because you probably
guessed it for yourself. But I solemnly state that I have a
conscientious objection to murder.'

'Then it was murder?'

'It was a kind of murder,' Rocco admitted. Who did it?'

'Unfair question,' said Rocco.

'Who else is in this precious scheme besides Jules and yourself?'

'Don't know, on my honour.'

'Well, then, tell me this. What have you been doing to Dimmock's

'How long were you in that bathroom?' Rocco parried with sublime

'Don't question me, Mr Rucker,' said Theodore Racksole. 'I feel
very much inclined to break your back across my knee. Therefore I
advise you not to irritate me. What have you been doing to
Dimmock's body?'

'I've been embalming it.'

'Em - balming it.'

'Certainly; Richardson's system of arterial fluid injection, as
improved by myself. You weren't aware that I included the art of
embalming among my accomplishments. Nevertheless, it is so.'

'But why?' asked Racksole, more mystified than ever. 'Why should
you trouble to embalm the poor chap's corpse?'

'Can't you see? Doesn't it strike you? That corpse has to be taken
care of.

It contains, or rather, it did contain, very serious evidence against
some person or persons unknown to the police. It may be
necessary to move it about from place to place. A corpse can't be
hidden for long; a corpse betrays itself. One couldn't throw it in the
Thames, for it would have been found inside twelve hours. One
couldn't bury it - it wasn't safe. The only thing was to keep it handy
and movable, ready for emergencies. I needn't inform you that,
without embalming, you can't keep a corpse handy and movable
for more than four or five days. It's the kind of thing that won't
keep. And so it was suggested that I should embalm it, and I did.
Mind you, I still objected to the murder, but I couldn't go back on a
colleague, you understand. You do understand that, don't you?
Well, here you are, and here it is, and that's all.'

Rocco leaned back in his chair as though he had said everything
that ought to be said. He closed his eyes to indicate that so far as
he was concerned the conversation was also closed. Theodore
Racksole stood up.

'I hope,' said Rocco, suddenly opening his eyes, 'I hope you'll call
in the police without any delay. It's getting late, and I don't like
going without my night's rest.'

'Where do you suppose you'll get a night's rest?' Racksole asked.

'In the cells, of course. Haven't I told you I know when I'm beaten.
I'm not so blind as not to be able to see that there's at any rate a
prima facie case against me. I expect I shall get off with a year or
two's imprisonment as accessory after the fact - I think that's what
they call it. Anyhow, I shall be in a position to prove that I am not
implicated in the murder of this unfortunate nincompoop.' He
pointed, with a strange, scornful gesture of his elbow, to the bed.
'And now, shall we go? Everyone is asleep, but there will be a
policeman within call of the watchman in the portico. I am at your
service. Let us go down together, Mr Racksole. I give you my word
to go quietly.'

'Stay a moment,' said Theodore Racksole curtly; 'there is no hurry.
It won't do you any harm to forego another hour's sleep, especially
as you will have no work to do to-morrow. I have one or two more
questions to put to you.'

'Well?' Rocco murmured, with an air of tired resignation, as if to
say, 'What must be must be.'

'Where has Dimmock's corpse been during the last three or four
days, since he - died?'

'Oh!' answered Rocco, apparently surprised at the simplicity of the
question. 'It's been in my room, and one night it was on the roof;
once it went out of the hotel as luggage, but it came back the next
day as a case of Demerara sugar. I forgot where else it has been,
but it's been kept perfectly safe and treated with every

'And who contrived all these manoeuvres?' asked Racksole as
calmly as he could.

'I did. That is to say, I invented them and I saw that they were
carried out. You see, the suspicions of your police obliged me to
be particularly spry.'

'And who carried them out?'

'Ah! that would be telling tales. But I don't mind assuring you that
my accomplices were innocent accomplices. It is absurdly easy for
a man like me to impose on underlings - absurdly easy.'

'What did you intend to do with the corpse ultimately?' Racksole
pursued his inquiry with immovable countenance.

'Who knows?' said Rocco, twisting his beautiful moustache. 'That
would have depended on several things - on your police, for
instance. But probably in the end we should have restored this
mortal clay' - again he jerked his elbow - 'to the man's sorrowing

'Do you know who the relatives are?'

'Certainly. Don't you? If you don't I need only hint that Dimmock
had a Prince for his father.'

'It seems to me,' said Racksole, with cold sarcasm, 'that you
behaved rather clumsily in choosing this bedroom as the scene of
your operations.'

'Not at all,' said Rocco. 'There was no other apartment so suitable
in the whole hotel. Who would have guessed that anything was
going on here? It was the very place for me.'

'I guessed,' said Racksole succinctly.

'Yes, you guessed, Mr Racksole. But I had not counted on you.
You are the only smart man in the business. You are an American
citizen, and I hadn't reckoned to have to deal with that class of

'Apparently I frightened you this afternoon?'

'Not in the least.'

'You were not afraid of a search?'

'I knew that no search was intended. I knew that you were trying to
frighten me. You must really credit me with a little sagacity and
insight, Mr Racksole. Immediately you began to talk to me in the
kitchen this afternoon I felt you were on the track. But I was not
frightened. I merely decided that there was no time to be lost - that
I must act quickly. I did act quickly, but, it seems, not quickly
enough. I grant that your rapidity exceeded mine. Let us go
downstairs, I beg.'

Rocco rose and moved towards the door. With an instinctive
action Racksole rushed forward and seized him by the shoulder.

'No tricks!' said Racksole. 'You're in my custody and don't forget

Rocco turned on his employer a look of gentle, dignified scorn.
'Have I not informed you,' he said, 'that I have the intention of
going quietly?'

Racksole felt almost ashamed for the moment. It flashed across
him that a man can be great, even in crime.

'What an ineffable fool you were,' said Racksole, stopping him at
the threshold, 'with your talents, your unique talents, to get
yourself mixed up in an affair of this kind. You are ruined. And, by
Jove! you were a great man in your own line.'

'Mr Racksole,' said Rocco very quickly, 'that is the truest word you
have spoken this night. I was a great man in my own line. And I
am an ineffable fool. Alas!' He brought his long arms to his sides
with a thud.

'Why did you do it?'

'I was fascinated - fascinated by Jules. He, too, is a great man. We
had great opportunities, here in the Grand Babylon. It was a great
game. It was worth the candle. The prizes were enormous. You
would admit these things if you knew the facts. Perhaps some day
you will know them, for you are a fairly clever person at getting to
the root of a matter. Yes, I was blinded, hypnotized.'

'And now you are ruined.'

'Not ruined, not ruined. Afterwards, in a few years, I shall come up

A man of genius like me is never ruined till he is dead. Genius is
always forgiven. I shall be forgiven. Suppose I am sent to prison.
When I emerge I shall be no gaol-bird. I shall be Rocco - the great
Rocco. And half the hotels in Europe will invite me to join them.'

'Let me tell you, as man to man, that you have achieved your own
degradation. There is no excuse.'

'I know it,' said Rocco. 'Let us go.'

Racksole was distinctly and notably impressed by this man - by
this master spirit to whom he was to have paid a salary at the rate
of three thousand pounds a year. He even felt sorry for him. And
so, side by side, the captor and the captured, they passed into the
vast deserted corridor of the hotel.

Rocco stopped at the grating of the first lift.

'It will be locked,' said Racksole. 'We must use the stairs to-night.'

'But I have a key. I always carry one,' said Rocco, and he pulled
one out of his pocket, and, unfastening the iron screen, pushed it
open. Racksole smiled at his readiness and aplomb.

'After you,' said Rocco, bowing in his finest manner, and Racksole
stepped into the lift.

With the swiftness of lighting Rocco pushed forward the iron
screen, which locked itself automatically. Theodore Racksole was
hopelessly a prisoner within the lift, while Rocco stood free in the

'Good-bye, Mr Racksole,' he remarked suavely, bowing again,
lower than before. 'Good-bye: I hate to take a mean advantage of
you in this fashion, but really you must allow that you have been
very simple. You are a clever man, as I have already said, up to a
certain point. It is past that point that my own cleverness comes in.
Again, good-bye. After all, I shall have no rest to-night, but
perhaps even that will be better that sleeping in a police cell. If you
make a great noise you may wake someone and ultimately get
released from this lift. But I advise you to compose yourself, and
wait till morning. It will be more dignified. For the third time,

And with that Rocco, without hastening, walked down the corridor
and so out of sight.

Racksole said never a word. He was too disgusted with himself to
speak. He clenched his fists, and put his teeth together, and held
his breath. In the silence he could hear the dwindling sound of
Rocco's footsteps on the thick carpet.

It was the greatest blow of Racksole's life.

The next morning the high-born guests of the Grand Babylon were
aroused by a rumour that by some accident the millionaire
proprietor of the hotel had remained all night locked up m the lift.
It was also stated that Rocco had quarrelled with his new master
and incontinently left the place. A duchess said that Rocco's
departure would mean the ruin of the hotel, whereupon her
husband advised her not to talk nonsense.

As for Racksole, he sent a message for the detective in charge of
the Dimmock affair, and bravely told him the happenings of the
previous night.

The narration was a decided ordeal to a man of Racksole's

'A strange story!' commented Detective Marshall, and he could not
avoid a smile. 'The climax was unfortunate, but you have certainly
got some valuable facts.'

Racksole said nothing.

'I myself have a clue,' added the detective. When your message
arrived I was just coming up to see you. I want you to accompany
me to a certain spot not far from here. Will you come, now, at

'With pleasure,' said Racksole.

At that moment a page entered with a telegram. Racksole opened
it read:

'Please come instantly. Nella. Hotel Wellington, Ostend.'

He looked at his watch.

'I can't come,' he said to the detective. Tm going to Ostend.'

'To Ostend?'

'Yes, now.'

'But really, Mr Racksole,' protested the detective. 'My business is

'So's mine,' said Racksole.

In ten minutes he was on his way to Victoria Station. _



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