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 >
_ 'DO you know anything of the antecedents of this Jules,' asked
Theodore Racksole, helping himself to whisky.

'Nothing whatever,' said Babylon. 'Until you told me, I don't think I
was aware that his true name was Thomas Jackson, though of
course I knew that it was not Jules. I certainly was not aware that
Miss Spencer was his wife, but I had long suspected that their
relations were somewhat more intimate than the nature of their
respective duties in the hotel absolutely demanded. All that I do
know of Jules - he will always be called Jules - is that he
gradually, by some mysterious personal force, acquired a
prominent position in the hotel. Decidedly he was the cleverest
and most intellectual waiter I have ever known, and he was
specially skilled in the difficult task of retaining his own dignity
while not interfering with that of other people.

I'm afraid this information is a little too vague to be of any
practical assistance in the present difficulty.'

'What is the present difficulty?' Racksole queried, with a simple

'I should imagine that the present difficulty is to account for the
man's presence in London.'

'That is easily accounted for,' said Racksole.

'How? Do you suppose he is anxious to give himself up to justice,
or that the chains of habit bind him to the hotel?'

'Neither,' said Racksole. 'Jules is going to have another try - that's

'Another try at what?'

'At Prince Eugen. Either at his life or his liberty. Most probably the
former this time; almost certainly the former. He has guessed that
we are somewhat handicapped by our anxiety to keep Prince
Eugen's predicament quite quiet, and he is taking advantage, of
that fact. As he already is fairly rich, on his own admission, the
reward which has been offered to him must be enormous, and he is
absolutely determined to get it. He has several times recently
proved himself to be a daring fellow; unless I am mistaken he will
shortly prove himself to be still more daring.'

'But what can he do? Surely you don't suggest that he will attempt
the life of Prince Eugen in this hotel?'

'Why not? If Reginald Dimmock fell on mere suspicion that he
would turn out unfaithful to the conspiracy, why not Prince

'But it would be an unspeakable crime, and do infinite harm to the

'True!' Racksole admitted, smiling. Little Felix Babylon seemed to
brace himself for the grasping of his monstrous idea.

'How could it possibly be done?' he asked at length.

'Dimmock was poisoned.'

'Yes, but you had Rocco here then, and Rocco was in the plot. It is
conceivable that Rocco could have managed it - barely
conceivable. But without Rocco I cannot think it possible. I cannot
even think that Jules would attempt it. You see, in a place like the
Grand Babylon, as probably I needn't point out to you, food has to
pass through so many hands that to poison one person without
killing perhaps fifty would be a most delicate operation. Moreover,
Prince Eugen, unless he has changed his habits, is always served
by his own attendant, old Hans, and therefore any attempt to
tamper with a cooked dish immediately before serving would be
hazardous in the extreme.'

'Granted,' said Racksole. 'The wine, however, might be more easily
got at.

Had you thought of that?'

'I had not,' Babylon admitted. 'You are an ingenious theorist, but I
happen to know that Prince Eugen always has his wine opened in
his own presence. No doubt it would be opened by Hans.
Therefore the wine theory is not tenable, my friend.'

'I do not see why,' said Racksole. 'I know nothing of wine as an
expert, and I very seldom drink it, but it seems to me that a bottle
of wine might be tampered with while it was still in the cellar,
especially if there was an accomplice in the hotel.'

'You think, then, that you are not yet rid of all your conspirators?'

'I think that Jules might still have an accomplice within the

'And that a bottle of wine could be opened and recorked without
leaving any trace of the operation?' Babylon was a trifle sarcastic.

'I don't see the necessity of opening the bottle in order to poison
the wine,' said Racksole. 'I have never tried to poison anybody by
means of a bottle of wine, and I don't lay claim to any natural
talent as a poisoner, but I think I could devise several ways of
managing the trick. Of course, I admit I may be entirely mistaken
as to Jules' intentions.'

'Ah!' said Felix Babylon. 'The wine cellars beneath us are one of
the wonders of London. I hope you are aware, Mr Racksole, that
when you bought the Grand Babylon you bought what is probably
the finest stock of wines in England, if not in Europe. In the
valuation I reckoned them at sixty thousand pounds. And I may say
that I always took care that the cellars were properly guarded.
Even Jules would experience a serious difficulty in breaking into
the cellars without the connivance of the wine-clerk, and the
wine-clerk is, or was, incorruptible.'

'I am ashamed to say that I have not yet inspected my wines,'
smiled Racksole; 'I have never given them a thought. Once or
twice I have taken the trouble to make a tour of the hotel, but I
omitted the cellars in my excursions.'

'Impossible, my dear fellow!' said Babylon, amused at such a
confession, to him - a great connoisseur and lover of fine wines -
almost incredible. 'But really you must see them to-morrow. If I
may, I will accompany you.'

'Why not to-night?' Racksole suggested, calmly.

'To-night! It is very late: Hubbard will have gone to bed.'

'And may I ask who is Hubbard? I remember the name but dimly.'

'Hubbard is the wine-clerk of the Grand Babylon,' said Felix , with
a certain emphasis. 'A sedate man of forty. He has the keys of the
cellars. He knows every bottle of every bin, its date, its qualities,
its value. And he's a teetotaler. Hubbard is a curiosity. No wine can
leave the cellars without his knowledge, and no person can enter
the cellars without his knowledge. At least, that is how it was in
my time,' Babylon added.

'We will wake him,' said Racksole.

'But it is one o'clock in the morning,' Babylon protested.

'Never mind - that is, if you consent to accompany me. A cellar is
the same by night as by day. Therefore, why not now?'

Babylon shrugged his shoulders. 'As you wish,' he agreed, with his
indestructible politeness.

'And now to find this Mr Hubbard, with his key of the cupboard,'
said Racksole, as they walked out of the room together. Although
the hour was so late, the hotel was not, of course, closed for the
night. A few guests still remained about in the public rooms, and a
few fatigued waiters were still in attendance. One of these latter
was despatched in search of the singular Mr Hubbard, and it
fortunately turned out that this gentleman had not actually retired,
though he was on the point of doing so. He brought the keys to Mr
Racksole in person, and after he had had a little chat with his
former master, the proprietor and the ex-proprietor of the Grand
Babylon Hotel proceeded on their way to the cellars.

These cellars extend over, or rather under, quite half the
superficial areas of the whole hotel - the longitudinal half which
lies next to the Strand.

Owing to the fact that the ground slopes sharply from the Strand to
the river, the Grand Babylon is, so to speak, deeper near the Strand
than it is near the Thames. Towards the Thames there is, below the
entrance level, a basement and a sub-basement. Towards the
Strand there is basement, sub-basement, and the huge wine cellars
beneath all. After descending the four flights of the service stairs,
and traversing a long passage running parallel with the kitchen, the
two found themselves opposite a door, which, on being unlocked,
gave access to another flight of stairs. At the foot of this was the
main entrance to the cellars. Outside the entrance was the
wine-lift, for the ascension of delicious fluids to the upper floors,
and, opposite, Mr Hubbard's little office. There was electric light

Babylon, who, as being most accustomed to them, held the bunch
of keys, opened the great door, and then they were in the first
cellar - the first of a suite of five. Racksole was struck not only by
the icy coolness of the place, but also by its vastness. Babylon had
seized a portable electric handlight, attached to a long wire, which
lay handy, and, waving it about, disclosed the dimensions of the
place. By that flashing illumination the subterranean chamber
looked unutterably weird and mysterious, with its rows of
numbered bins, stretching away into the distance till the radiance
was reduced to the occasional far gleam of the light on the
shoulder of a bottle. Then Babylon switched on the fixed electric
lights, and Theodore Racksole entered upon a
personally-conducted tour of what was quite the most interesting
part of his own property.

To see the innocent enthusiasm of Felix Babylon for these stores
of exhilarating liquid was what is called in the North 'a sight for
sair een'.

He displayed to Racksole's bewildered gaze, in their due order, all
the wines of three continents - nay, of four, for the superb and
luscious Constantia wine of Cape Colony was not wanting in that
most catholic collection of vintages. Beginning with the
unsurpassed products of Burgundy, he continued with the clarets
of Médoc, Bordeaux, and Sauterne; then to the champagnes of Ay,
Hautvilliers, and Pierry; then to the hocks and moselles of
Germany, and the brilliant imitation champagnes of Main, Neckar,
and Naumburg; then to the famous and adorable Tokay of
Hungary, and all the Austrian varieties of French wines, including
Carlowitz and Somlauer; then to the dry sherries of Spain,
including purest Manzanilla, and Amontillado, and Vino de Pasto;
then to the wines of Malaga, both sweet and dry, and all the
'Spanish reds' from Catalonia, including the dark 'Tent' so often
used sacramentally; then to the renowned port of Oporto. Then he
proceeded to the Italian cellar, and descanted upon the excellence
of Barolo from Piedmont, of Chianti from Tuscany, of Orvieto
from the Roman States, of the 'Tears of Christ' from Naples, and
the commoner Marsala from Sicily. And so on, to an extent and
with a fullness of detail which cannot be rendered here.

At the end of the suite of cellars there was a glazed door, which, as
could be seen, gave access to a supplemental and smaller cellar, an
apartment about fifteen or sixteen feet square.

'Anything special in there?' asked Racksole curiously, as they stood
before the door, and looked within at the seined ends of bottles.

'Ah!' exclaimed Babylon, almost smacking his lips, 'therein lies the
cream of all.'

'The best champagne, I suppose?' said Racksole.

'Yes,' said Babylon, 'the best champagne is there - a very special
Sillery, as exquisite as you will find anywhere. But I see, my
friend, that you fall into the common error of putting champagne
first among wines. That distinction belongs to Burgundy. You have
old Burgundy in that cellar, Mr Racksole, which cost me - how
much do you think? - eighty pounds a bottle.

Probably it will never be drunk,' he added with a sigh. 'It is too
expensive even for princes and plutocrats.'

'Yes, it will,' said Racksole quickly. 'You and I will have a bottle
up to-morrow.'

'Then,' continued Babylon, still riding his hobby-horse, 'there is a
sample of the Rhine wine dated 1706 which caused such a
sensation at the Vienna Exhibition of 1873. There is also a
singularly glorious Persian wine from Shiraz, the like of which I
have never seen elsewhere. Also there is an unrivalled vintage of
Romanée-Conti, greatest of all modern Burgundies. If I remember
right Prince Eugen invariably has a bottle when he comes to stay
here. It is not on the hotel wine list, of course, and only a few
customers know of it. We do not precisely hawk it about the

'Indeed!' said Racksole. 'Let us go inside.'

They entered the stone apartment, rendered almost sacred by the
preciousness of its contents, and Racksole looked round with a
strangely intent and curious air. At the far side was a grating,
through which came a feeble light.

'What is that?' asked the millionaire sharply.

'That is merely a ventilation grating. Good ventilation is absolutely

'Looks broken, doesn't it?' Racksole suggested and then, putting a
finger quickly on Babylon's shoulder, 'there's someone in the
cellar. Can't you hear breathing, down there, behind that bin?'

The two men stood tense and silent for a while, listening, under
the ray of the single electric light in the ceiling. Half the cellar was
involved in gloom. At length Racksole walked firmly down the
central passage-way between the bins and turned to the corner at
the right.

'Come out, you villain!' he said in a low, well-nigh vicious tone,
and dragged up a cowering figure.

He had expected to find a man, but it was his own daughter, Nella
Racksole, upon whom he had laid angry hands. _


Read previous: CHAPTER 21 - THE RETURN OF F&: 201;LIX BABYLON

Table of content of Grand Babylon Hotel


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