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The Grand Babylon Hotel, a novel by Arnold Bennett


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_ AS regards Theodore Racksole, who was to have caught his man
from the outside of the cellar, he made his way as rapidly as
possible from the wine-cellars, up to the ground floor, out of the
hotel by the quadrangle, through the quadrangle, and out into the
top of Salisbury Lane. Now, owing to the vastness of the structure
of the Grand Babylon, the mere distance thus to be traversed
amounted to a little short of a quarter of a mile, and, as it included
a number of stairs, about two dozen turnings, and several passages
which at that time of night were in darkness more or less
complete, Racksole could not have been expected to accomplish
the journey in less than five minutes. As a matter of fact, six
minutes had elapsed before he reached the top of Salisbury Lane,
because he had been delayed nearly a minute by some questions
addressed to him by a muddled and whisky-laden guest who had
got lost in the corridors. As everybody knows, there is a sharp
short bend in Salisbury Lane near the top. Racksole ran round this
at good racing speed, but he was unfortunate enough to run straight
up against the very policeman who had not long before so
courteously supplied Jules with a match. The policeman seemed to
be scarcely in so pliant a mood just then.

'Hullo!' he said, his naturally suspicious nature being doubtless
aroused by the spectacle of a bareheaded man in evening dress
running violently down the lane. 'What's this? Where are you for in
such a hurry?' and he forcibly detained Theodore Racksole for a
moment and scrutinized his face.

'Now, officer,' said Racksole quietly, 'none of your larks, if you

I've no time to lose.'

'Beg your pardon, sir,' the policeman remarked, though hesitatingly
and not quite with good temper, and Racksole was allowed to
proceed on his way. The millionaire's scheme for trapping Jules
was to get down into the little sunk yard by means of the ladder,
and then to secrete himself behind some convenient abutment of
brickwork until Mr Tom Jackson should have got into the cellar.
He therefore nimbly surmounted the railings - the railings of his
own hotel - and was gingerly descending the ladder, when lo! a
rough hand seized him by the coat-collar and with a ferocious jerk
urged him backwards. The fact was, Theodore Racksole had
counted without the policeman. That guardian of the peace,
mistrusting Racksole's manner, quietly followed him down the
lane. The sight of the millionaire climbing the railings had put him
on his mettle, and the result was the ignominious capture of
Racksole. In vain Theodore expostulated, explained,
anathematized. Only one thing would satisfy the stolid policeman -
namely, that Racksole should return with him to the hotel and
there establish his identity. If Racksole then proved to be
Racksole, owner of the Grand Babylon, well and good - the
policeman promised to apologize. So Theodore had no alternative
but to accept the suggestion. To prove his identity was, of course,
the work of only a few minutes, after which Racksole, annoyed,
but cool as ever, returned to his railings, while the policeman went
off to another part of his beat, where he would be likely to meet a
comrade and have a chat.

In the meantime, our friend Jules, sublimely unconscious of the
altercation going on outside, and of the special risk which he ran,
was of course actually in the cellar, which he had reached before
Racksole got to the railings for the first time. It was, indeed, a
happy chance for Jules that his exit from the cellar coincided with
the period during which Racksole was absent from the railings. As
Racksole came down the lane for the second time, he saw a figure
walking about fifty yards in front of him towards the Embankment.
Instantly he divined that it was Jules, and that the policeman had
thrown him just too late. He ran, and Jules, hearing the noise of
pursuit, ran also. The ex-waiter was fleet; he made direct for a
certain spot in the Embankment wall, and, to the intense
astonishment of Racksole, jumped clean over the wall, as it
seemed, into the river. 'Is he so desperate as to commit suicide?'
Racksole exclaimed as he ran, but a second later the puff and snort
of a steam launch told him that Jules was not quite driven to
suicide. As the millionaire crossed the Embankment roadway he
saw the funnel of the launch move out from under the river-wall. It
swerved into midstream and headed towards London Bridge. There
was a silent mist over the river. Racksole was helpless. . . .

Although Racksole had now been twice worsted in a contest of
wits within the precincts of the Grand Babylon, once by Rocco and
once by Jules, he could not fairly blame himself for the present
miscarriage of his plans - a miscarriage due to the
meddlesomeness of an extraneous person, combined with pure
ill-fortune. He did not, therefore, permit the accident to interfere
with his sleep that night.

On the following day he sought out Prince Aribert, between whom
and himself there now existed a feeling of unmistakable, frank
friendship, and disclosed to him the happenings of the previous
night, and particularly the tampering with the bottle of

'I believe you dined with Prince Eugen last night?'

'I did. And curiously enough we had a bottle of Romanée-Conti,
an admirable wine, of which Eugen is passionately fond.'

'And you will dine with him to-night?'

'Most probably. To-day will, I fear, be our last day here. Eugen
wishes to return to Posen early to-morrow.'

'Has it struck you, Prince,' said Racksole, 'that if Jules had
succeeded in poisoning your nephew, he would probably have
succeeded also in poisoning you?'

'I had not thought of it,' laughed Aribert, 'but it would seem so. It
appears that so long as he brings down his particular quarry, Jules
is careless of anything else that may be accidentally involved in
the destruction. However, we need have no fear on that score now.
You know the bottle, and you can destroy it at once.'

'But I do not propose to destroy it,' said Racksole calmly. 'If Prince
Eugen asks for Romanée-Conti to be served to-night, as he
probably will, I propose that that precise bottle shall be served to
him - and to you.'

'Then you would poison us in spite of ourselves?'

'Scarcely,' Racksole smiled. 'My notion is to discover the
accomplices within the hotel. I have already inquired as to the
wine-clerk, Hubbard. Now does it not occur to you as
extraordinary that on this particular day Mr Hubbard should be ill
in bed? Hubbard, I am informed, is suffering from an attack of
stomach poisoning, which has supervened during the night. He
says that he does not know what can have caused it. His place in
the wine cellars will be taken to-day by his assistant, a mere youth,
but to all appearances a fairly smart youth. I need not say that we
shall keep an eye on that youth.'

'One moment,' Prince Aribert interrupted. 'I do not quite
understand how you think the poisoning was to have been

'The bottle is now under examination by an expert, who has
instructions to remove as little as possible of the stuff which Jules
put on the rim of the mouth of it. It will be secretly replaced in its
bin during the day. My idea is that by the mere action of pouring
out the wine takes up some of the poison, which I deem to be very
strong, and thus becomes fatal as it enters the glass.'

'But surely the servant in attendance would wipe the mouth of the

'Very carelessly, perhaps. And moreover he would be extremely
unlikely to wipe off all the stuff; some of it has been ingeniously
placed just on the inside edge of the rim. Besides, suppose he
forgot to wipe the bottle?'

'Prince Eugen is always served at dinner by Hans. It is an honour
which the faithful old fellow reserves for himself.'

'But suppose Hans - ' Racksole stopped.

'Hans an accomplice! My dear Racksole, the suggestion is wildly

That night Prince Aribert dined with his august nephew in the
superb dining-room of the Royal apartments. Hans served, the
dishes being brought to the door by other servants. Aribert found
his nephew despondent and taciturn. On the previous day, when,
after the futile interview with Sampson Levi, Prince Eugen had
despairingly threatened to commit suicide, in such a manner as to
make it 'look like an accident', Aribert had compelled him to give
his word of honour not to do so.

'What wine will your Royal Highness take?' asked old Hans in his
soothing tones, when the soup was served.

'Sherry,' was Prince Eugen's curt order.

'And Romanée-Conti afterwards?' said Hans. Aribert looked up

'No, not to-night. I'll try Sillery to-night,' said Prince Eugen.

'I think I'll have Romanée-Conti, Hans, after all,' he said. 'It suits
me better than champagne.'

The famous and unsurpassable Burgundy was served with the
roast. Old Hans brought it tenderly in its wicker cradle, inserted
the corkscrew with mathematical precision, and drew the cork,
which he offered for his master's inspection. Eugen nodded, and
told him to put it down. Aribert watched with intense interest. He
could not for an instant believe that Hans was not the very soul of
fidelity, and yet, despite himself, Racksole's words had caused him
a certain uneasiness. At that moment Prince Eugen murmured
across the table:

'Aribert, I withdraw my promise. Observe that, I withdraw it.'
Aribert shook his head emphatically, without removing his gaze
from Hans. The white-haired servant perfunctorily dusted his
napkin round the neck of the bottle of Romanée-Conti, and
poured out a glass. Aribert trembled from head to foot.

Eugen took up the glass and held it to the light.

'Don't drink it,' said Aribert very quietly. 'It is poisoned.'

'Poisoned!' exclaimed Prince Eugen.

'Poisoned, sire!' exclaimed old Hans, with an air of profound
amazement and concern, and he seized the glass. 'Impossible, sire.
I myself opened the bottle. No one else has touched it, and the
cork was perfect.'

'I tell you it is poisoned,' Aribert repeated.

'Your Highness will pardon an old man,' said Hans, 'but to say that
this wine is poison is to say that I am a murderer. I will prove to
you that it is not poisoned. I will drink it.' And he raised the glass
to his trembling lips. In that moment Aribert saw that old Hans, at
any rate, was not an accomplice of Jules. Springing up from his
seat, he knocked the glass from the aged servitor's hands, and the
fragments of it fell with a light tinkling crash partly on the table
and partly on the floor. The Prince and the servant gazed at one
another in a distressing and terrible silence.

There was a slight noise, and Aribert looked aside. He saw that
Eugen's body had slipped forward limply over the left arm of his
chair; the Prince's arms hung straight and lifeless; his eyes were
closed; he was unconscious.

'Hans!' murmured Aribert. 'Hans! What is this?' _



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