Short Stories
All Titles

In Association with Amazon.com

Home > Authors Index > Arnold Bennett > Grand Babylon Hotel > This page

The Grand Babylon Hotel, a novel by Arnold Bennett


< Previous
Table of content
Next >
_ 'EUGEN,' Prince Aribert called softly. At the sound of his own
name the young man in the cellar feebly raised his head and stared
up at the grating which separated him from his two rescuers. But
his features showed no recognition. He gazed in an aimless, vague,
silly manner for a few seconds, his eyes blinking under the glare of
the lantern, and then his head slowly drooped again on to his chest.
He was dressed in a dark tweed travelling suit, and Racksole
observed that one sleeve - the left - was torn across the upper part
of the cuff, and that there were stains of dirt on the left shoulder. A
soiled linen collar, which had lost all its starch and was half
unbuttoned, partially encircled the captive's neck; his brown boots
were unlaced; a cap, a handkerchief, a portion of a watch-chain,
and a few gold coins lay on the floor. Racksole flashed the lantern
into the corners of the cellar, but he could discover no other
furniture except the chair on which the Hereditary Prince of Posen
sat and a small deal table on which were a plate and a cup.

'Eugen,' cried Prince Aribert once more, but this time his forlorn
nephew made no response whatever, and then Aribert added in a
low voice to Racksole: 'Perhaps he cannot see us clearly.'

'But he must surely recognize your voice,' said Racksole, in a hard,
gloomy tone. There was a pause, and the two men above ground
looked at each other hesitatingly. Each knew that they must enter
that cellar and get Prince Eugen out of it, and each was somehow
afraid to take the next step.

'Thank God he is not dead!' said Aribert.

'He may be worse than dead!' Racksole replied.

'Worse than - What do you mean?'

'I mean - he may be mad.'

'Come,' Aribert almost shouted, with a sudden access of energy - a
wild impulse for action. And, snatching the lantern from Racksole,
he rushed into the dark room where they had heard the
conversation of Miss Spencer and the lady in the red hat. For a
moment Racksole did not stir from the threshold of the window.
'Come,' Prince Aribert repeated, and there was an imperious
command in his utterance. 'What are you afraid of?'

'I don't know,' said Racksole, feeling stupid and queer; 'I don't

Then he marched heavily after Prince Aribert into the room. On
the mantelpiece were a couple of candles which had been blown
out, and in a mechanical, unthinking way, Racksole lighted them,
and the two men glanced round the room. It presented no peculiar
features: it was just an ordinary room, rather small, rather mean,
rather shabby, with an ugly wallpaper and ugly pictures in ugly
frames. Thrown over a chair was a man's evening-dress jacket. The
door was closed. Prince Aribert turned the knob, but he could not
open it.

'It's locked,' he said. 'Evidently they know we're here.'

'Nonsense,' said Racksole brusquely; 'how can they know?' And,
taking hold of the knob, he violently shook the door, and it opened.
'I told you it wasn't locked,' he added, and this small success of
opening the door seemed to steady the man. It was a curious
psychological effect, this terrorizing (for it amounted to that) of
two courageous full-grown men by the mere apparition of a
helpless creature in a cellar. Gradually they both recovered from it.
The next moment they were out in the passage which led to the
front door of the house. The front door stood open. They looked
into the street, up and down, but there was not a soul in sight. The
street, lighted by three gas-lamps only, seemed strangely sinister
and mysterious.

'She has gone, that's clear,' said Racksole, meaning the woman
with the red hat.

'And Miss Spencer after her, do you think?' questioned Aribert.

'No. She would stay. She would never dare to leave. Let us find the
cellar steps.'

The cellar steps were happily not difficult to discover, for in
moving a pace backwards Prince Aribert had a narrow escape of
precipitating himself to the bottom of them. The lantern showed
that they were built on a curve.

Silently Racksole resumed possession of the lantern and went first,
the Prince close behind him. At the foot was a short passage, and
in this passage crouched the figure of a woman. Her eyes threw
back the rays of the lantern, shining like a cat's at midnight. Then,
as the men went nearer, they saw that it was Miss Spencer who
barred their way. She seemed half to kneel on the stone floor, and
in one hand she held what at first appeared to be a dagger, but
which proved to be nothing more romantic than a rather long

'I heard you, I heard you,' she exclaimed. 'Get back; you mustn't
come here.'

There was a desperate and dangerous look on her face, and her
form shook with scarcely controlled passionate energy.

'Now see here, Miss Spencer,' Racksole said calmly, 'I guess we've
had enough of this fandango. You'd better get up and clear out, or
we'll just have to drag you off.'

He went calmly up to her, the lantern in his hand. Without another
word she struck the knife into his arm, and the lantern fell
extinguished. Racksole gave a cry, rather of angry surprise than of
pain, and retreated a few steps. In the darkness they could still
perceive the glint of her eyes.

'I told you you mustn't come here,' the woman said. 'Now get back.'

Racksole positively laughed. It was a queer laugh, but he laughed,
and he could not help it. The idea of this woman, this bureau clerk,
stopping his progress and that of Prince Aribert by means of a
bread-knife aroused his sense of humour. He struck a match,
relighted the candle, and faced Miss Spencer once more.

'I'll do it again,' she said, with a note of hard resolve.

'Oh, no, you won't, my girl,' said Racksole; and he pulled out his
revolver, cocked it, raised his hand.

'Put down that plaything of yours,' he said firmly.

'No,' she answered.

'I shall shoot.'

She pressed her lips together.

'I shall shoot,' he repeated. 'One - two - three.'

Bang, bang! He had fired twice, purposely missing her. Miss
Spencer never blenched. Racksole was tremendously surprised -
and he would have been a thousandfold more surprised could he
have contrasted her behaviour now with her abject terror on the
previous evening when Nella had threatened her.

'You've got a bit of pluck,' he said, 'but it won't help you. Why
won't you let us pass?'

As a matter of fact, pluck was just what she had not, really; she
had merely subordinated one terror to another. She was
desperately afraid of Racksole's revolver, but she was much more
afraid of something else.

'Why won't you let us pass?'

'I daren't,' she said, with a plaintive tremor; 'Tom put me in charge.'

That was all. The men could see tears running down her poor
wrinkled face.

Theodore Racksole began to take off his light overcoat.

'I see I must take my coat off to you,' he said, and he almost
smiled. Then, with a quick movement, he threw the coat over Miss
Spencer's head and flew at her, seizing both her arms, while Prince
Aribert assisted.

Her struggles ceased - she was beaten.

'That's all right,' said Racksole: 'I could never have used that
revolver - to mean business with it, of course.'

They carried her, unresisting, upstairs and on to the upper floor,
where they locked her in a bedroom. She lay in the bed as if

'Now for my poor Eugen,' said Prince Aribert.

'Don't you think we'd better search the house first?' Racksole
suggested; 'it will be safer to know just how we stand. We can't
afford any ambushes or things of that kind, you know.'

The Prince agreed, and they searched the house from top to
bottom, but found no one. Then, having locked the front door and
the french window of the sitting-room, they proceeded again to the

Here a new obstacle confronted them. The cellar door was, of
course, locked; there was no sign of a key, and it appeared to be a
heavy door. They were compelled to return to the bedroom where
Miss Spencer was incarcerated, in order to demand the key of the
cellar from her. She still lay without movement on the bed.

'Tom's got it,' she replied, faintly, to their question: 'Tom's got it, I
swear to you. He took it for safety.'

'Then how do you feed your prisoner?' Racksole asked sharply.

'Through the grating,' she answered.

Both men shuddered. They felt she was speaking the truth. For the
third time they went to the cellar door. In vain Racksole thrust
himself against it; he could do no more than shake it.

'Let's try both together,' said Prince Aribert. 'Now!' There was a

'Again,' said Prince Aribert. There was another crack, and then the
upper hinge gave way. The rest was easy. Over the wreck of the
door they entered Prince Eugen's prison.

The captive still sat on his chair. The terrific noise and bustle of
breaking down the door seemed not to have aroused him from his
lethargy, but when Prince Aribert spoke to him in German he
looked at his uncle.

'Will you not come with us, Eugen?' said Prince Aribert; 'you
needn't stay here any longer, you know.'

'Leave me alone,' was the strange reply; 'leave me alone. What do
you want?'

'We are here to get you out of this scrape,' said Aribert gently.
Racksole stood aside.

'Who is that fellow?' said Eugen sharply.

'That is my friend Mr Racksole, an Englishman - or rather, I should
say, an American - to whom we owe a great deal. Come and have
supper, Eugen.'

'I won't,' answered Eugen doggedly. 'I'm waiting here for her. You
didn't think anyone had kept me here, did you, against my will? I
tell you I'm waiting for her. She said she'd come.'

'Who is she?' Aribert asked, humouring him.

'She! Why, you know! I forgot, of course, you don't know. You
mustn't ask.

Don't pry, Uncle Aribert. She was wearing a red hat.'

'I'll take you to her, my dear Eugen.' Prince Aribert put his hands
on the other's shoulder, but Eugen shook him off violently, stood
up, and then sat down again.

Aribert looked at Racksole, and they both looked at Prince Eugen.
The latter's face was flushed, and Racksole observed that the left
pupil was more dilated than the right. The man started, muttered
odd, fragmentary scraps of sentences, now grumbling, now

'His mind is unhinged,' Racksole whispered in English.

'Hush!' said Prince Aribert. 'He understands English.' But Prince
Eugen took no notice of the brief colloquy.

'We had better get him upstairs, somehow,' said Racksole.

'Yes,' Aribert assented. 'Eugen, the lady with the red hat, the lady
you are waiting for, is upstairs. She has sent us down to ask you to
come up. Won't you come?'

'Himmel!' the poor fellow exclaimed, with a kind of weak anger.
'Why did you not say this before?'

He rose, staggered towards Aribert, and fell headlong on the floor.
He had swooned. The two men raised him, carried him up the
stone steps, and laid him with infinite care on a sofa. He lay,
breathing queerly through the nostrils, his eyes closed, his fingers
contracted; every now and then a convulsion ran through his

'One of us must fetch a doctor,' said Prince Aribert.

'I will,' said Racksole. At that moment there was a quick, curt rap
on the french window, and both Racksole and the Prince glanced
round startled. A girl's face was pressed against the large
window-pane. It was Nella's.

Racksole unfastened the catch, and she entered.

'I have found you,' she said lightly; 'you might have told me. I
couldn't sleep. I inquired from the hotel-folks if you had retired,
and they said no; so I slipped out. I guessed where you were.'
Racksole interrupted her with a question as to what she meant by
this escapade, but she stopped him with a careless gesture. What's
this?' She pointed to the form on the sofa.

'That is my nephew, Prince Eugen,' said Aribert.

'Hurt?' she inquired coldly. 'I hope not.'

'He is ill,' said Racksole, 'his brain is turned.'

Nella began to examine the unconscious Prince with the expert
movements of a girl who had passed through the best hospital
course to be obtained in New York.

'He has got brain fever,' she said. 'That is all, but it will be enough.
Do you know if there is a bed anywhere in this remarkable house?' _



Table of content of Grand Babylon Hotel


Post your review
Your review will be placed after the table of content of this book