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The Grand Babylon Hotel, a novel by Arnold Bennett


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_ WE must now return to Nella Racksole and Prince Aribert of
Posen on board the yacht without a name. The Prince's first
business was to make Jules, otherwise Mr Tom Jackson, perfectly
secure by means of several pieces of rope. Although Mr Jackson
had been stunned into a complete unconsciousness, and there was
a contused wound under his ear, no one could say how soon he
might not come to himself and get very violent. So the Prince,
having tied his arms and legs, made him fast to a stanchion.

'I hope he won't die,' said Nella. 'He looks very white.'

'The Mr Jacksons of this world,' said Prince Aribert sententiously,
'never die till they are hung. By the way, I wonder how it is that no
one has interfered with us. Perhaps they are discreetly afraid of my
revolver - of your revolver, I mean.'

Both he and Nella glanced up at the imperturbable steersman, who
kept the yacht's head straight out to sea. By this time they were
about a couple of miles from the Belgian shore.

Addressing him in French, the Prince ordered the sailor to put the
yacht about, and make again for Ostend Harbour, but the fellow
took no notice whatever of the summons. The Prince raised the
revolver, with the idea of frightening the steersman, and then the
man began to talk rapidly in a mixture of French and Flemish. He
said that he had received Jules' strict orders not to interfere in any
way, no matter what might happen on the deck of the yacht. He
was the captain of the yacht, and he had to make for a certain
English port, the name of which he could not divulge: he was to
keep the vessel at full steam ahead under any and all
circumstances. He seemed to be a very big, a very strong, and a
very determined man, and the Prince was at a loss what course of
action to pursue. He asked several more questions, but the only
effect of them was to render the man taciturn and ill-humoured.

In vain Prince Aribert explained that Miss Nella Racksole,
daughter of millionaire Racksole, had been abducted by Mr Tom
Jackson; in vain he flourished the revolver threateningly; the surly
but courageous captain said merely that that had nothing to do
with him; he had instructions, and he should carry them out. He
sarcastically begged to remind his interlocutor that he was the
captain of the yacht.

'It won't do to shoot him, I suppose,' said the Prince to Nella. 'I
might bore a hole into his leg, or something of that kind.'

'It's rather risky, and rather hard on the poor captain, with his
extraordinary sense of duty,' said Nella. 'And, besides, the whole
crew might turn on us. No, we must think of something else.'

'I wonder where the crew is,' said the Prince.

Just then Mr Jackson, prone and bound on the deck, showed signs
of recovering from his swoon. His eyes opened, and he gazed
vacantly around. At length he caught sight of the Prince, who
approached him with the revolver well in view.

'It's you, is it?' he murmured faintly. 'What are you doing on board?
Who's tied me up like this?'

'See here!' replied the Prince, 'I don't want to have any arguments,
but this yacht must return to Ostend at once, where you will be
given up to the authorities.'

'Really!' snarled Mr Tom Jackson. 'Shall I!' Then he called out in
French to the man at the wheel, 'Hi André! let these two be put off
in the dinghy.'

It was a peculiar situation. Certain of nothing but the possession of
Nella's revolver, the Prince scarcely knew whether to carry the
argument further, and with stronger measures, or to accept the
situation with as much dignity as the circumstances would permit.

'Let us take the dinghy,' said Nella; 'we can row ashore in an hour.'

He felt that she was right. To leave the yacht in such a manner
seemed somewhat ignominious, and it certainly involved the
escape of that profound villain, Mr Thomas Jackson. But what else
could be done? The Prince and Nella constituted one party on the
vessel; they knew their own strength, but they did not know the
strength of their opponents. They held the hostile ringleader bound
and captive, but this man had proved himself capable of giving
orders, and even to gag him would not help them if the captain of
the yacht persisted in his obstinate course. Moreover, there was a
distinct objection to promiscuous shooting; the Prince felt that;
there was no knowing how promiscuous shooting might end.

'We will take the dinghy,' said the Prince quickly, to the captain.

A bell rang below, and a sailor and the Negro boy appeared on
deck. The pulsations of the screw grew less rapid. The yacht
stopped. The dinghy was lowered. As the Prince and Nella
prepared to descend into the little cock-boat Mr Tom Jackson
addressed Nella, all bound as he lay.

'Good-bye,' he said, 'I shall see you again, never fear.' .

In another moment they were in the dinghy, and the dinghy was
adrift. The yacht's screw chumed the water, and the beautiful
vessel slipped away from them. As it receded a figure appeared at
the stem. It was Mr Thomas Jackson.

He had been released by his minions. He held a white
handkerchief to his ear, and offered a calm, enigmatic smile to the
two forlorn but victorious occupants of the dinghy. Jules had been
defeated for once in his life; or perhaps it would be more just to
say that he had been out-manoeuvred. Men like Jules are incapable
of being defeated. It was characteristic of his luck that now, in the
very hour when he had been caught red-handed in a serious crime
against society, he should be effecting a leisurely escape - an
escape which left no clue behind.

The sea was utterly calm and blue in the morning sun. The dinghy
rocked itself lazily in the swell of the yacht's departure. As the mist
cleared away the outline of the shore became more distinct, and it
appeared as if Ostend was distant scarcely a cable's length. The
white dome of the great Kursaal glittered in the pale turquoise sky,
and the smoke of steamers in the harbour could be plainly
distinguished. On the offing was a crowd of brown-sailed fishing
luggers returning with the night's catch. The many-hued
bathing-vans could be counted on the distant beach. Everything
seemed perfectly normal. It was difficult for either Nella or her
companion to realize that anything extraordinary had happened
within the last hour. Yet there was the yacht, not a mile off, to
prove to them that something very extraordinary had, in fact,
happened. The yacht was no vision, nor was that sinister watching
figure at its stern a vision, either.

'I suppose Jules was too surprised and too feeble to inquire how I
came to be on board his yacht,' said the Prince, taking the oars.

'Oh! How did you?' asked Nella, her face lighting up. 'Really, I had
almost forgotten that part of the affair.'

'I must begin at the beginning and it will take some time,' answered
the Prince. 'Had we not better postpone the recital till we get

'I will row and you shall talk,' said Nella. 'I want to know now.'

He smiled happily at her, but gently declined to yield up the oars.

'Is it not sufficient that I am here?' he said.

'It is sufficient, yes,' she replied, 'but I want to know.'

With a long, easy stroke he was pulling the dinghy shorewards.
She sat in the stern-sheets.

'There is no rudder,' he remarked, 'so you must direct me. Keep the
boat's head on the lighthouse. The tide seems to be running in
strongly; that will help us. The people on shore will think that we
have only been for a little early morning excursion.'

'Will you kindly tell me how it came about that you were able to
save my life, Prince?' she said.

'Save your life, Miss Racksole? I didn't save your life; I merely
knocked a man down.'

'You saved my life,' she repeated. 'That villain would have stopped
at nothing. I saw it in his eye.'

'Then you were a brave woman, for you showed no fear of death.'
His admiring gaze rested full on her. For a moment the oars ceased
to move.

She gave a gesture of impatience.

'It happened that I saw you last night in your carriage,' he said. 'The
fact is, I had not had the audacity to go to Berlin with my story. I
stopped in Ostend to see whether I could do a little detective work
on my own account.

It was a piece of good luck that I saw you. I followed the carriage
as quickly as I could, and I just caught a glimpse of you as you
entered that awful house. I knew that Jules had something to do
with that house. I guessed what you were doing. I was afraid for
you. Fortunately I had surveyed the house pretty thoroughly. There
is an entrance to it at the back, from a narrow lane. I made my way
there. I got into the yard at the back, and I stood under the window
of the room where you had the interview with Miss Spencer. I
heard everything that was said. It was a courageous enterprise on
your part to follow Miss Spencer from the Grand Babylon to
Ostend. Well, I dared not force an entrance, lest I might precipitate
matters too suddenly, and involve both of us in a difficulty. I
merely kept watch. Ah, Miss Racksole! you were magnificent with
Miss Spencer; as I say, I could hear every word, for the window
was slightly open. I felt that you needed no assistance from me.
And then she cheated you with a trick, and the revolver came
flying through the window. I picked it up, I thought it would
probably be useful. There was a silence. I did not guess at first that
you had fainted. I thought that you had escaped. When I found out
the truth it was too late for me to intervene. There were two men,
both desperate, besides Miss Spencer - '

'Who was the other man?' asked Nella.

'I do not know. It was dark. They drove away with you to the
harbour. Again I followed. I saw them carry you on board. Before
the yacht weighed anchor I managed to climb unobserved into the
dinghy. I lay down full length in it, and no one suspected that I was
there. I think you know the rest.'

'Was the yacht all ready for sea?'

'The yacht was all ready for sea. The captain fellow was on the
bridge, and steam was up.'

'Then they expected me! How could that be?'

'They expected some one. I do not think they expected you.'

'Did the second man go on board?'

'He helped to carry you along the gangway, but he came back again
to the carriage. He was the driver.'

'And no one else saw the business?'

'The quay was deserted. You see, the last steamer had arrived for
the night.'

There was a brief silence, and then Nella ejaculated, under her

'Truly, it is a wonderful world!'

And it was a wonderful world for them, though scarcely perhaps,
in the sense which Nella Racksole had intended. They had just
emerged from a highly disconcerting experience. Among other
minor inconveniences, they had had no breakfast. They were out in
the sea in a tiny boat. Neither of them knew what the day might
bring forth. The man, at least, had the most serious anxieties for
the safety of his Royal nephew. And yet - and yet - neither of them
wished that that voyage of the little boat on the summer tide
should come to an end. Each, perhaps unconsciously, had a vague
desire that it might last for ever, he lazily pulling, she directing his
course at intervals by a movement of her distractingly pretty head.
How was this condition of affairs to be explained? Well, they were
both young; they both had superb health, and all the ardour of
youth; and - they were together.

The boat was very small indeed; her face was scarcely a yard from
his. She, in his eyes, surrounded by the glamour of beauty and vast
wealth; he, in her eyes, surrounded by the glamour of masculine
intrepidity and the brilliance of a throne.

But all voyages come to an end, either at the shore or at the bottom
of the sea, and at length the dinghy passed between the stone
jetties of the harbour. The Prince rowed to the nearest steps, tied
up the boat, and they landed. It was six o'clock in the morning, and
a day of gorgeous sunlight had opened. Few people were about at
that early hour.

'And now, what next?' said the Prince. 'I must take you to an hotel.'

'I am in your hands,' she acquiesced, with a smile which sent the
blood racing through his veins. He perceived now that she was
tired and overcome, suffering from a sudden and natural reaction.

At the Hôtel Wellington the Prince told the sleepy door-keeper that
they had come by the early train from Bruges, and wanted
breakfast at once. It was absurdly early, but a common English
sovereign will work wonders in any Belgian hotel, and in a very
brief time Nella and the Prince were breakfasting on the verandah
of the hotel upon chocolate that had been specially and hastily
brewed for them.

'I never tasted such excellent chocolate,' claimed the Prince.

The statement was wildly untrue, for the Hôtel Wellington is not
celebrated for its chocolate. Nevertheless Nella replied
enthusiastically, 'Nor I.'

Then there was a silence, and Nella, feeling possibly that she had
been too ecstatic, remarked in a very matter-of-fact tone: 'I must
telegraph to Papa instantly.'

Thus it was that Theodore Racksole received the telegram which
drew him away from Detective Marshall. _



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