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The Grand Babylon Hotel, a novel by Arnold Bennett


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_ 'HE must on no account be moved,' said the dark little Belgian
doctor, whose eyes seemed to peer so quizzically through his
spectacles; and he said it with much positiveness.

That pronouncement rather settled their plans for them. It was
certainly a professional triumph for Nella, who, previous to the
doctor's arrival, had told them the very same thing. Considerable
argument had passed before the doctor was sent for. Prince Aribert
was for keeping the whole affair a deep secret among their three
selves. Theodore Racksole agreed so far, but he suggested further
that at no matter what risk they should transport the patient over to
England at once. Racksole had an idea that he should feel safer in
that hotel of his, and better able to deal with any situation that
might arise. Nella scorned the idea. In her quality of an amateur
nurse, she assured them that Prince Eugen was much more
seriously ill than either of them suspected, and she urged that they
should take absolute possession of the house, and keep possession
till Prince Eugen was convalescent.

'But what about the Spencer female?' Racksole had said.

'Keep her where she is. Keep her a prisoner. And hold the house
against all comers. If Jules should come back, simply defy him to
enter - that is all.

There are two of you, so you must keep an eye on the former
occupiers, if they return, and on Miss Spencer, while I nurse the
patient. But first, you must send for a doctor.'

'Doctor!' Prince Aribert had said, alarmed. 'Will it not be necessary
to make some awkward explanation to the doctor?'

'Not at all!' she replied. 'Why should it be? In a place like Ostend
doctors are far too discreet to ask questions; they see too much to
retain their curiosity. Besides, do you want your nephew to die?'

Both the men were somewhat taken aback by the girl's sagacious
grasp of the situation, and it came about that they began to obey
her like subordinates.

She told her father to sally forth in search of a doctor, and he went.
She gave Prince Aribert certain other orders, and he promptly
executed them.

By the evening of the following day, everything was going
smoothly. The doctor came and departed several times, and sent
medicine, and seemed fairly optimistic as to the issue of the
illness. An old woman had been induced to come in and cook and
clean. Miss Spencer was kept out of sight on the attic floor,
pending some decision as to what to do with her. And no one
outside the house had asked any questions. The inhabitants of that
particular street must have been accustomed to strange behaviour
on the part of their neighbours, unaccountable appearances and
disappearances, strange flittings and arrivals. This strong-minded
and active trio - Racksole, Nella, and Prince Aribert - might have
been the lawful and accustomed tenants of the house, for any
outward evidence to the contrary.

On the afternoon of the third day Prince Eugen was distinctly and
seriously worse. Nella had sat up with him the previous night and
throughout the day.

Her father had spent the morning at the hotel, and Prince Aribert
had kept watch. The two men were never absent from the house at
the same time, and one of them always did duty as sentinel at
night. On this afternoon Prince Aribert and Nella sat together in
the patient's bedroom. The doctor had just left. Theodore Racksole
was downstairs reading the New York Herald. The Prince and
Nella were near the window, which looked on to the back-garden.

It was a queer shabby little bedroom to shelter the august body of a
European personage like Prince Eugen of Posen. Curiously
enough, both Nella and her father, ardent democrats though they
were, had been somehow impressed by the royalty and importance
of the fever-stricken Prince - impressed as they had never been by
Aribert. They had both felt that here, under their care, was a
species of individuality quite new to them, and different from
anything they had previously encountered. Even the gestures and
tones of his delirium had an air of abrupt yet condescending
command - an imposing mixture of suavity and haughtiness. As for
Nella, she had been first struck by the beautiful 'E' over a crown on
the sleeves of his linen, and by the signet ring on his pale,
emaciated hand. After all, these trifling outward signs are at least
as effective as others of deeper but less obtrusive significance. The
Racksoles, too, duly marked the attitude of Prince Aribert to his
nephew: it was at once paternal and reverential; it disclosed clearly
that Prince Aribert continued, in spite of everything, to regard his
nephew as his sovereign lord and master, as a being surrounded by
a natural and inevitable pomp and awe. This attitude, at the
beginning, seemed false and unreal to the Americans; it seemed to
them to be assumed; but gradually they came to perceive that they
were mistaken, and that though America might have cast out 'the
monarchial superstition', nevertheless that 'superstition' had
vigorously survived in another part of the world.

'You and Mr Racksole have been extraordinarily kind to me,' said
Prince Aribert very quietly, after the two had sat some time in

'Why? How?' she asked unaffectedly. 'We are interested in this
affair ourselves, you know. It began at our hotel - you mustn't
forget that, Prince.'

'I don't,' he said. 'I forget nothing. But I cannot help feeling that I
have led you into a strange entanglement. Why should you and Mr
Racksole be here - you who are supposed to be on a holiday! -
hiding in a strange house in a foreign country, subject to all sorts
of annoyances and all sorts of risks, simply because I am anxious
to avoid scandal, to avoid any sort of talk, in connection with my
misguided nephew? It is nothing to you that the Hereditary Prince
of Posen should be liable to a public disgrace. What will it matter
to you if the throne of Posen becomes the laughing-stock of

'I really don't know, Prince,' Nella smiled roguishly. 'But we
Americans have, a habit of going right through with anything we
have begun.'

'Ah!' he said, 'who knows how this thing will end? All our trouble,
our anxieties, our watchfulness, may come to nothing. I tell you
that when I see Eugen lying there, and think that we cannot learn
his story until he recovers, I am ready to go mad. We might be
arranging things, making matters smooth, preparing for the future,
if only we knew - knew what he can tell us. I tell you that I am
ready to go mad. If anything should happen to you, Miss Racksole,
I would kill myself.'

'But why?' she questioned. 'Supposing, that is, that anything could
happen to me - which it can't.'

'Because I have dragged you into this,' he replied, gazing at her. 'It
is nothing to you. You are only being kind.'

'How do you know it is nothing to me, Prince?' she asked him

Just then the sick man made a convulsive movement, and Nella
flew to the bed and soothed him. From the head of the bed she
looked over at Prince Aribert, and he returned her bright, excited
glance. She was in her travelling-frock, with a large white Belgian
apron tied over it. Large dark circles of fatigue and sleeplessness
surrounded her eyes, and to the Prince her cheek seemed hollow
and thin; her hair lay thick over the temples, half covering the ears.
Aribert gave no answer to her query - merely gazed at her with
melancholy intensity.

'I think I will go and rest,' she said at last. 'You will know all about
the medicine.'

'Sleep well,' he said, as he softly opened the door for her. And then
he was alone with Eugen. It was his turn that night to watch, for
they still half-expected some strange, sudden visit, or onslaught, or
move of one kind or another from Jules. Racksole slept in the
parlour on the ground floor.

Nella had the front bedroom on the first floor; Miss Spencer was
immured in the attic; the last-named lady had been singularly quiet
and incurious, taking her food from Nella and asking no questions,
the old woman went at nights to her own abode in the purlieus of
the harbour. Hour after hour Aribert sat silent by his nephew's
bed-side, attending mechanically to his wants, and every now and
then gazing hard into the vacant, anguished face, as if trying to
extort from that mask the secrets which it held. Aribert was
tortured by the idea that if he could have only half an hour's, only a
quarter of an hour's, rational speech with Prince Eugen, all might
be cleared up and put right, and by the fact that that rational talk
was absolutely impossible on Eugen's part until the fever had run
its course. As the minutes crept on to midnight the watcher, made
nervous by the intense, electrical atmosphere which seems always
to surround a person who is dangerously ill, grew more and more a
prey to vague and terrible apprehensions. His mind dwelt
hysterically on the most fatal possibilities.

He wondered what would occur if by any ill-chance Eugen should
die in that bed - how he would explain the affair to Posen and to
the Emperor, how he would justify himself. He saw himself being
tried for murder, sentenced (him - a Prince of the blood!), led to
the scaffold . . . a scene unparalleled in Europe for over a century!
. . . Then he gazed anew at the sick man, and thought he saw death
in every drawn feature of that agonized face. He could have
screamed aloud. His ears heard a peculiar resonant boom. He
started - it was nothing but the city clock striking twelve. But there
was another sound - a mysterious shuffle at the door. He listened;
then jumped from his chair. Nothing now! Nothing! But still he
felt drawn to the door, and after what seemed an interminable
interval he went and opened it, his heart beating furiously. Nella
lay in a heap on the door mat. She was fully dressed, but had
apparently lost consciousness. He clutched at her slender body,
picked her up, carried her to the chair by the fire-place, and laid
her in it. He had forgotten all about Eugen.

'What is it, my angel?' he whispered, and then he kissed her -
kissed her twice. He could only look at her; he did not know what
to do to succour her.

At last she opened her eyes and sighed.

'Where am I?' she asked. vaguely, in a tremulous tone. as she
recognized him. 'Is it you? Did I do anything silly? Did I faint?'

'What has happened? Were you ill?' he questioned anxiously. He
was kneeling at her feet, holding her hand tight.

'I saw Jules by the side of my bed,' she murmured; 'I'm sure I saw
him; he laughed at me. I had not undressed. I sprang up,
frightened, but he had gone, and then I ran downstairs - to you.'

'You were dreaming,' he soothed her.

'Was I?'

'You must have been. I have not heard a sound. No one could have

But if you like I will wake Mr Racksole.'

'Perhaps I was dreaming,' she admitted. 'How foolish!'

'You were over-tired,' he said, still unconsciously holding her hand.
They gazed at each other. She smiled at him.

'You kissed me,' she said suddenly, and he blushed red and stood
up before her. 'Why did you kiss me?'

'Ah! Miss Racksole,' he murmured, hurrying the words out.
'Forgive me. It is unforgivable, but forgive me. I was overpowered
by my feelings. I did not know what I was doing.'

'Why did you kiss me?' she repeated.

'Because - Nella! I love you. I have no right to say it.'

'Why have you no right to say it?'

'If Eugen dies, I shall owe a duty to Posen - I shall be its ruler.'

'Well!' she said calmly, with an adorable confidence. 'Papa is worth
forty millions. Would you not abdicate?'

'Ah!' he gave a low cry. 'Will you force me to say these things? I
could not shirk my duty to Posen, and the reigning Prince of Posen
can only marry a Princess.'

'But Prince Eugen will live,' she said positively, 'and if he lives - '

'Then I shall be free. I would renounce all my rights to make you
mine, if - if - '

'If what, Prince?'

'If you would deign to accept my hand.'

'Am I, then, rich enough?'

'Nella!' He bent down to her.

Then there was a crash of breaking glass. Aribert went to the
window and opened it. In the starlit gloom he could see that a
ladder had been raised against the back of the house. He thought
he heard footsteps at the end of the garden.

'It was Jules,' he exclaimed to Nella, and without another word
rushed upstairs to the attic. The attic was empty. Miss Spencer had
mysteriously vanished. _



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