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The Grand Babylon Hotel, a novel by Arnold Bennett


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_ ON the evening of Prince Eugen's fateful interview with Mr
Sampson Levi, Theodore Racksole was wandering somewhat
aimlessly and uneasily about the entrance hail and adjacent
corridors of the Grand Babylon. He had returned from Ostend only
a day or two previously, and had endeavoured with all his might to
forget the affair which had carried him there - to regard it, in fact,
as done with. But he found himself unable to do so. In vain he
remarked, under his breath, that there were some things which
were best left alone: if his experience as a manipulator of markets,
a contriver of gigantic schemes in New York, had taught him
anything at all, it should surely have taught him that. Yet he could
not feel reconciled to such a position. The mere presence of the
princes in his hotel roused the fighting instincts of this man, who
had never in his whole career been beaten. He had, as it were,
taken up arms on their side, and if the princes of Posen would not
continue their own battle, nevertheless he, Theodore Racksole,
wanted to continue it for them. To a certain extent, of course, the
battle had been won, for Prince Eugen had been rescued from an
extremely difficult and dangerous position, and the enemy -
consisting of Jules, Rocco, Miss Spencer, and perhaps others - had
been put to flight. But that, he conceived, was not enough; it was
very far from being enough. That the criminals, for criminals they
decidedly were, should still be at large, he regarded as an absurd
anomaly. And there was another point: he had said nothing to the
police of all that had occurred. He disdained the police, but he
could scarcely fail to perceive that if the police should by accident
gain a clue to the real state of the case he might be placed rather
awkwardly, for the simple reason that in the eyes of the law it
amounted to a misdemeanour to conceal as much as he had
concealed. He asked himself, for the thousandth time, why he had
adopted a policy of concealment from the police, why he had
become in any way interested in the Posen matter, and why, at this
present moment, he should be so anxious to prosecute it further?
To the first two questions he replied, rather lamely, that he had
been influenced by Nella, and also by a natural spirit of adventure;
to the third he replied that he had always been in the habit of
carrying things through, and was now actuated by a mere childish,
obstinate desire to carry this one through. Moreover, he was
spendidly conscious of his perfect ability to carry it through. One
additional impulse he had, though he did not admit it to himself,
being by nature adverse to big words, and that was an abstract love
of justice, the Anglo-Saxon's deep-found instinct for helping the
right side to conquer, even when grave risks must thereby be run,
with no corresponding advantage.

He was turning these things over in his mind as he walked about
the vast hotel on that evening of the last day in July. The Society
papers had been stating for a week past that London was empty,
but, in spite of the Society papers, London persisted in seeming to
be just as full as ever. The Grand Babylon was certainly not as
crowded as it had been a month earlier, but it was doing a very
passable business. At the close of the season the gay butterflies of
the social community have a habit of hovering for a day or two in
the big hotels before they flutter away to castle and country-house,
meadow and moor, lake and stream. The great basket-chairs in the
portico were well filled by old and middle-aged gentlemen
engaged in enjoying the varied delights of liqueurs, cigars, and the
full moon which floated so serenely above the Thames. Here and
there a pretty woman on the arm of a cavalier in immaculate attire
swept her train as she turned to and fro in the promenade of the
terrace. Waiters and uniformed commissionaires and gold-braided
doorkeepers moved noiselessly about; at short intervals the chief
of the doorkeepers blew his shrill whistle and hansoms drove up
with tinkling bell to take away a pair of butterflies to some place
of amusement or boredom; occasionally a private carriage drawn
by expensive and self-conscious horses put the hansoms to shame
by its mere outward glory. It was a hot night, a night for the
summer woods, and save for the vehicles there was no rapid
movement of any kind. It seemed as though the world - the world,
that is to say, of the Grand Babylon - was fully engaged in the
solemn processes of digestion and small-talk. Even the long row of
the Embankment gas-lamps, stretching right and left, scarcely
trembled in the still, warm, caressing air. The stars overhead
looked down with many blinkings upon the enormous pile of the
Grand Babylon, and the moon regarded it with bland and
changeless face; what they thought of it and its inhabitants cannot,
unfortunately, be recorded. What Theodore Racksole thought of
the moon can be recorded: he thought it was a nuisance. It
somehow fascinated his gaze with its silly stare, and so interfered
with his complex meditations. He glanced round at the
well-dressed and satisfied people - his guests, his customers. They
appeared to ignore him absolutely.

Probably only a very small percentage of them had the least idea
that this tall spare man, with the iron-grey hair and the thin, firm,
resolute face, who wore his American-cut evening clothes with
such careless ease, was the sole proprietor of the Grand Babylon,
and possibly the richest man in Europe. As has already been stated,
Racksole was not a celebrity in England.

The guests of the Grand Babylon saw merely a restless male
person, whose restlessness was rather a disturber of their quietude,
but with whom, to judge by his countenance, it would be
inadvisable to remonstrate. Therefore Theodore Racksole
continued his perambulations unchallenged, and kept saying to
himself, 'I must do something.' But what? He could think of no
course to pursue.

At last he walked straight through the hotel and out at the other
entrance, and so up the little unassuming side street into the
roaring torrent of the narrow and crowded Strand. He jumped on a
Putney bus, and paid his fair to Putney, fivepence, and then,
finding that the humble occupants of the vehicle stared at the
spectacle of a man in evening dress but without a dustcoat, he
jumped off again, oblivious of the fact that the conductor jerked a
thumb towards him and winked at the passengers as who should
say, 'There goes a lunatic.' He went into a tobacconist's shop and
asked for a cigar. The shopman mildly inquired what price.

'What are the best you've got?' asked Theodore Racksole.

'Five shillings each, sir,' said the man promptly.

'Give me a penny one,' was Theodore Racksole's laconic request,
and he walked out of the shop smoking the penny cigar. It was a
new sensation for him.

He was inhaling the aromatic odours of Eugène Rimmel's
establishment for the sale of scents when a gentleman, walking
slowly in the opposite direction, accosted him with a quiet, 'Good
evening, Mr Racksole.' The millionaire did not at first recognize
his interlocutor, who wore a travelling overcoat, and was carrying
a handbag. Then a slight, pleased smile passed over his features,
and he held out his hand.

'Well, Mr Babylon,' he greeted the other, 'of all persons in the wide
world you are the man I would most have wished to meet.'

'You flatter me,' said the little Anglicized Swiss.

'No, I don't,' answered Racksole; 'it isn't my custom, any more than
it's yours. I wanted to have a real good long yarn with you, and lo!
here you are! Where have you sprung from?'

'From Lausanne,' said Felix Babylon. 'I had finished my duties
there, I had nothing else to do, and I felt homesick. I felt the
nostalgia of London, and so I came over, just as you see,' and he
raised the handbag for Racksole's notice. 'One toothbrush, one
razor, two slippers, ehl' He laughed. 'I was wondering as I walked
along where I should stay - me, Felix Babylon, homeless in

'I should advise you to stay at the Grand Babylon,' Racksole
laughed back.

'It is a good hotel, and I know the proprietor personally.'

'Rather expensive, is it not?' said Babylon.

'To you, sir,' answered Racksole, 'the inclusive terms will be
exactly half a crown a week. Do you accept?'

'I accept,' said Babylon, and added, 'You are very good, Mr

They strolled together back to the hotel, saying nothing in
particular, but feeling very content with each other's company.

'Many customers?' asked Felix Babylon.

'Very tolerable,' said Racksole, assuming as much of the air of the
professional hotel proprietor as he could. 'I think I may say in the
storekeeper's phrase, that if there is any business about I am doing

To-night the people are all on the terrace in the portico - it's so
confoundedly hot - and the consumption of ice is simply enormous
- nearly as large as it would be in New York.'

'In that case,' said Babylon politely, 'let me offer you another cigar.'

'But I have not finished this one.'

'That is just why I wish to offer you another one. A cigar such as
yours, my good friend, ought never to be smoked within the
precincts of the Grand Babylon, not even by the proprietor of the
Grand Babylon, and especially when all the guests are assembled
in the portico. The fumes of it would ruin any hotel.'

Theodore Racksole laughingly lighted the Rothschild Havana
which Babylon gave him, and they entered the hotel arm in arm.
But no sooner had they mounted the steps than little Felix became
the object of numberless greetings. It appeared that he had been
highly popular among his quondam guests. At last they reached the
managerial room, where Babylon was regaled on a chicken, and
Racksole assisted him in the consumption of a bottle of Heidsieck
Monopole, Carte d'Or.

'This chicken is almost perfectly grilled,' said Babylon at length. 'It
is a credit to the house. But why, my dear Racksole, why in the
name of Heaven did you quarrel with Rocco?'

'Then you have heard?'

'Heard! My dear friend, it was in every newspaper on the
Continent. Some journals prophesied that the Grand Babylon
would have to close its doors within half a year now that Rocco
had deserted it. But of course I knew better. I knew that you must
have a good reason for allowing Rocco to depart, and that you
must have made arrangements in advance for a substitute.'

'As a matter of fact, I had not made arrangements in advance,' said
Theodore Racksole, a little ruefully; 'but happily we have found in
our second sous-chef an artist inferior only to Rocco himself. That,
however, was mere good fortune.'

'Surely,' said Babylon, 'it was indiscreet to trust to mere good
fortune in such a serious matter?'

'I didn't trust to mere good fortune. I didn't trust to anything except
Rocco, and he deceived me.'

'But why did you quarrel with him?'

'I didn't quarrel with him. I found him embalming a corpse in the
State bedroom one night - '

'You what?' Babylon almost screamed.

'I found him embalming a corpse in the State bedroom,' repeated
Racksole in his quietest tones.

The two men gazed at each other, and then Racksole replenished
Babylon's glass.

'Tell me,' said Babylon, settling himself deep in an easy chair and
lighting a cigar.

And Racksole thereupon recounted to him the whole of the Posen
episode, with every circumstantial detail so far as he knew it. It
was a long and complicated recital, and occupied about an hour.
During that time little Felix never spoke a word, scarcely moved a
muscle; only his small eyes gazed through the bluish haze of
smoke. The clock on the mantelpiece tinkled midnight.

'Time for whisky and soda,' said Racksole, and got up as if to ring
the bell; but Babylon waved him back.

'You have told me that this Sampson Levi had an audience of
Prince Eugen to-day, but you have not told me the result of that
audience,' said Babylon.

'Because I do not yet know it. But I shall doubtless know
to-morrow. In the meantime, I feel fairly sure that Levi declined to
produce Prince Eugen's required million. I have reason to believe
that the money was lent elsewhere.'

'H'm!' mused Babylon; and then, carelessly, 'I am not at all
surprised at that arrangement for spying through the bathroom of
the State apartments.'

'Why are you not surprised?'

'Oh!' said Babylon, 'it is such an obvious dodge - so easy to carry
out. As for me, I took special care never to involve myself in these
affairs. I knew they existed; I somehow felt that they existed. But I
also felt that they lay outside my sphere. My business was to
provide board and lodging of the most sumptuous kind to those
who didn't mind paying for it; and I did my business. If anything
else went on in the hotel, under the rose, I long determined to
ignore it unless it should happen to be brought before my notice;
and it never was brought before my notice. However, I admit that
there is a certain pleasurable excitement in this kind of affair and
doubtless you have experienced that.'

'I have,' said Racksole simply, 'though I believe you are laughing at

'By no means,' Babylon replied. 'Now what, if I may ask the
question, is going to be your next step?'

'That is just what I desire to know myself,' said Theodore

'Well,' said Babylon, after a pause, 'let us begin. In the first place, it
is possible you may be interested to hear that I happened to see
Jules to-day.'

'You did!' Racksole remarked with much calmness. 'Where?'

'Well, it was early this morning, in Paris, just before I left there.
The meeting was quite accidental, and Jules seemed rather
surprised at meeting me. He respectfully inquired where I was
going, and I said that I was going to Switzerland. At that moment I
thought I was going to Switzerland. It had occurred to me that after
all I should be happier there, and that I had better turn back and
not see London any more. However, I changed my mind once
again, and decided to come on to London, and accept the risks of
being miserable there without my hotel. Then I asked Jules
whither he was bound, and he told me that he was off to
Constantinople, being interested in a new French hotel there. I
wished him good luck, and we parted.'

'Constantinople, eh!' said Racksole. 'A highly suitable place for
him, I should say.'

'But,' Babylon resumed, 'I caught sight of him again.'


'At Charing Cross, a few minutes before I had the pleasure of
meeting you.

Mr Jules had not gone to Constantinople after all. He did not see
me, or I should have suggested to him that in going from Paris to
Constantinople it is not usual to travel via London.'

'The cheek of the fellow!' exclaimed Theodore Racksole. 'The
gorgeous and colossal cheek of the fellow!' _



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