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 >
_ THE Royal apartments at the Grand Babylon are famous in the
world of hotels, and indeed elsewhere, as being, in their own way,
unsurpassed. Some of the palaces of Germany, and in particular
those of the mad Ludwig of Bavaria, may possess rooms and
saloons which outshine them in gorgeous luxury and the mere wild
fairy-like extravagance of wealth; but there is nothing, anywhere,
even on Eighth Avenue, New York, which can fairly be called
more complete, more perfect, more enticing, or - not least
important - more comfortable.

The suite consists of six chambers - the ante-room, the saloon or
audience chamber, the dining-room, the yellow drawing-room
(where Royalty receives its friends), the library, and the State
bedroom - to the last of which we have already been introduced.
The most important and most impressive of these is, of course, the
audience chamber, an apartment fifty feet long by forty feet broad,
with a superb outlook over the Thames, the Shot Tower, and the
higher signals of the South-Western Railway. The decoration of
this room is mainly in the German taste, since four out of every six
of its Royal occupants are of Teutonic blood; but its chief glory is
its French ceiling, a masterpiece by Fragonard, taken bodily from a
certain famous palace on the Loire. The walls are of panelled oak,
with an eight-foot dado of Arras cloth imitated from unique
Continental examples. The carpet, woven in one piece, is an
antique specimen of the finest Turkish work, and it was obtained, a
bargain, by Felix Babylon, from an impecunious Roumanian
Prince. The silver candelabra, now fitted with electric light, came
from the Rhine, and each had a separate history. The Royal chair -
it is not etiquette to call it a throne, though it amounts to a throne -
was looted by Napoleon from an Austrian city, and bought by Felix
Babylon at the sale of a French collector. At each corner of the
room stands a gigantic grotesque vase of German faïence of the
sixteenth century. These were presented to Felix Babylon by
William the First of Germany, upon the conclusion of his first
incognito visit to London in connection with the French trouble of

There is only one picture in the audience chamber. It is a portrait
of the luckless but noble Dom Pedro, Emperor of the Brazils.
Given to Felix Babylon by Dom Pedro himself, it hangs there
solitary and sublime as a reminder to Kings and Princes that
Empires may pass away and greatness fall. A certain Prince who
was occupying the suite during the Jubilee of 1887 - when the
Grand Babylon had seven persons of Royal blood under its roof -
sent a curt message to Felix that the portrait must be removed.
Felix respectfully declined to remove it, and the Prince left for
another hotel, where he was robbed of two thousand pounds' worth
of jewellery. The Royal audience chamber of the Grand Babylon,
if people only knew it, is one of the sights of London, but it is
never shown, and if you ask the hotel servants about its wonders
they will tell you only foolish facts concerning it, as that the
Turkey carpet costs fifty pounds to clean, and that one of the great
vases is cracked across the pedestal, owing to the rough treatment
accorded to it during a riotous game of Blind Man's Buff, played
one night by four young Princesses, a Balkan King, and his

In one of the window recesses of this magnificent apartment, on a
certain afternoon in late July, stood Prince Aribert of Posen. He
was faultlessly dressed in the conventional frock-coat of English
civilization, with a gardenia in his button-hole, and the
indispensable crease down the front of the trousers. He seemed to
be fairly amused, and also to expect someone, for at frequent
intervals he looked rapidly over his shoulder in the direction of the
door behind the Royal chair. At last a little wizened, stooping old
man, with a distinctly German cast of countenance, appeared
through the door, and laid some papers on a small table by the side
of the chair.

'Ah, Hans, my old friend!' said Aribert, approaching the old man. 'I
must have a little talk with you about one or two matters. How do
you find His Royal Highness?'

The old man saluted, military fashion. 'Not very well, your
Highness,' he answered. 'I've been valet to your Highness's nephew
since his majority, and I was valet to his Royal father before him,
but I never saw - ' He stopped, and threw up his wrinkled hands

'You never saw what?' Aribert smiled affectionately on the old
fellow. You could perceive that these two, so sharply
differentiated in rank, had been intimate in the past, and would be
intimate again.

'Do you know, my Prince,' said the old man, 'that we are to receive
the financier, Sampson Levi - is that his name? - in the audience
chamber? Surely, if I may humbly suggest, the library would have
been good enough for a financier?'

'One would have thought so,' agreed Prince Aribert, 'but perhaps
your master has a special reason. Tell me,' he went on, changing
the subject quickly, 'how came it that you left the Prince, my
nephew, at Ostend, and returned to Posen?'

'His orders, Prince,' and old Hans, who had had a wide experience
of Royal whims and knew half the secrets of the Courts of Europe,
gave Aribert a look which might have meant anything. 'He sent me
back on an - an errand, your Highness.'

'And you were to rejoin him here?'

'Just so, Highness. And I did rejoin him here, although, to tell the
truth, I had begun to fear that I might never see my master again.'

'The Prince has been very ill in Ostend, Hans.'

'So I have gathered,' Hans responded drily, slowly rubbing his
hands together. 'And his Highness is not yet perfectly recovered.'

'Not yet. We despaired of his life, Hans, at one time, but thanks to
an excellent constitution, he came safely through the ordeal.'

'We must take care of him, your Highness.'

'Yes, indeed,' said Aribert solemnly, 'his life is very precious to

At that moment, Eugen, Hereditary Prince of Posen, entered the
audience chamber. He was pale and languid, and his uniform
seemed to be a trouble to him. His hair had been slightly ruffled,
and there was a look of uneasiness, almost of alarmed unrest, in
his fine dark eyes. He was like a man who is afraid to look behind
him lest he should see something there which ought not to be
there. But at the same time, here beyond doubt was Royalty.
Nothing could have been more striking than the contrast between
Eugen, a sick man in the shabby house at Ostend, and this Prince
Eugen in the Royal apartments of the Grand Babylon Hotel,
surrounded by the luxury and pomp which modern civilization can
offer to those born in high places. All the desperate episode of
Ostend was now hidden, passed over. It was supposed never to
have occurred. It existed only like a secret shame in the hearts of
those who had witnessed it. Prince Eugen had recovered; at any
rate, he was convalescent, and he had been removed to London,
where he took up again the dropped thread of his princely life. The
lady with the red hat, the incorruptible and savage Miss Spencer,
the unscrupulous and brilliant Jules, the dark, damp cellar, the
horrible little bedroom - these things were over. Thanks to Prince
Aribert and the Racksoles, he had emerged from them in safety.
He was able to resume his public and official career. The Emperor
had been informed of his safe arrival in London, after an
unavoidable delay in Ostend; his name once more figured in the
Court chronicle of the newspapers. In short, everything was
smothered over. Only - only Jules, Rocco, and Miss Spencer were
still at large; and the body of Reginald Dimmock lay buried in the
domestic mausoleum of the palace at Posen; and Prince Eugen had
still to interview Mr Sampson Levi.

That various matters lay heavy on the mind of Prince Eugen was
beyond question. He seemed to have withdrawn within himself.
Despite the extraordinary experiences through which he had
recently passed, events which called aloud for explanations and
confidence between the nephew and the uncle, he would say
scarcely a word to Prince Aribert. Any allusion, however direct, to
the days at Ostend, was ignored by him with more or less
ingenuity, and Prince Aribert was really no nearer a full solution of
the mystery of Jules' plot than he had been on the night when he
and Racksole visited the gaming tables at Ostend. Eugen was well
aware that he had been kidnapped through the agency of the
woman in the red hat, but, doubtless ashamed at having been her
dupe, he would not proceed in any way with the clearing-up of the

'You will receive in this room, Eugen?' Aribert questioned him.

'Yes,' was the answer, given pettishly. 'Why not? Even if I have no
proper retinue here, surely that is no reason why I should not hold
audience in a proper manner? . . . Hans, you can go.' The old valet
promptly disappeared.

'Aribert,' the Hereditary Prince continued, when they were alone in
the chamber, 'you think I am mad.'

'My dear Eugen,' said Prince Aribert, startled in spite of himself.
'Don't be absurd.'

'I say you think I am mad. You think that that attack of brain fever
has left its permanent mark on me. Well, perhaps I am mad. Who
can tell? God knows that I have been through enough lately to
drive me mad.'

Aribert made no reply. As a matter of strict fact, the thought had
crossed his mind that Eugen's brain had not yet recovered its
normal tone and activity. This speech of his nephew's, however,
had the effect of immediately restoring his belief in the latter's
entire sanity. He felt convinced that if only he could regain his
nephew's confidence, the old brotherly confidence which had
existed between them since the years when they played together as
boys, all might yet be well. But at present there appeared to be no
sign that Eugen meant to give his confidence to anyone.

The young Prince had come up out of the valley of the shadow of
death, but some of the valley's shadow had clung to him, and it
seemed he was unable to dissipate it.

'By the way,' said Eugen suddenly, 'I must reward these Racksoles,
I suppose. I am indeed grateful to them. If I gave the girl a
bracelet, and the father a thousand guineas - how would that meet
the case?'

'My dear Eugen!' exclaimed Aribert aghast. 'A thousand guineas!
Do you know that Theodore Racksole could buy up all Posen from
end to end without making himself a pauper. A thousand guineas!
You might as well offer him sixpence.'

'Then what must I offer?'

'Nothing, except your thanks. Anything else would be an insult.
These are no ordinary hotel people.'

'Can't I give the little girl a bracelet?' Prince Eugen gave a sinister

Aribert looked at him steadily. 'No,' he said.

'Why did you kiss her - that night?' asked Prince Eugen carelessly.

'Kiss whom?' said Aribert, blushing and angry, despite his most
determined efforts to keep calm and unconcerned.

'The Racksole girl.'

'When do you mean?'

'I mean,' said Prince Eugen, 'that night in Ostend when I was ill.
You thought I was in a delirium. Perhaps I was. But somehow I
remember that with extraordinary distinctness. I remember raising
my head for a fraction of an instant, and just in that fraction of an
instant you kissed her. Oh, Uncle Aribert!'

'Listen, Eugen, for God's sake. I love Nella Racksole. I shall marry

'You!' There was a long pause, and then Eugen laughed. 'Ah!' he
said. 'They all talk like that to start with. I have talked like that
myself, dear uncle; it sounds nice, and it means nothing.'

'In this case it means everything, Eugen,' said Aribert quietly.
Some accent of determination in the latter's tone made Eugen
rather more serious.

'You can't marry her,' he said. 'The Emperor won't permit a
morganatic marriage.'

'The Emperor has nothing to do with the affair. I shall renounce
my rights.

I shall become a plain citizen.'

'In which case you will have no fortune to speak of.'

'But my wife will have a fortune. Knowing the sacrifices which I
shall have made in order to marry her, she will not hesitate to
place that fortune in my hands for our mutual use,' said Aribert

'You will decidedly be rich,' mused Eugen, as his ideas dwelt on
Theodore Racksole's reputed wealth. 'But have you thought of this,'
he asked, and his mild eyes glowed again in a sort of madness.
'Have you thought that I am unmarried, and might die at any
moment, and then the throne will descend to you - to you, Aribert?'

'The throne will never descend to me, Eugen,' said Aribert softly,
'for you will live. You are thoroughly convalescent. You have
nothing to fear.'

'It is the next seven days that I fear,' said Eugen.

'The next seven days! Why?'

'I do not know. But I fear them. If I can survive them - '

'Mr Sampson Levi, sire,' Hans announced in a loud tone. _


Read previous: CHAPTER 18 - IN THE NIGHT-TIME

Table of content of Grand Babylon Hotel


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