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The Grand Babylon Hotel, a novel by Arnold Bennett


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_ IT happened that the small bedroom occupied by Jules during the
years he was head-waiter at the Grand Babylon had remained
empty since his sudden dismissal by Theodore Racksole. No other
head-waiter had been formally appointed in his place; and, indeed,
the absence of one man - even the unique Jules - could scarcely
have been noticed in the enormous staff of a place like the Grand
Babylon. The functions of a head-waiter are generally more
ornamental, spectacular, and morally impressive than useful, and it
was so at the great hotel on the Embankment. Racksole
accordingly had the excellent idea of transporting his prisoner,
with as much secrecy as possible, to this empty bedroom. There
proved to be no difficulty in doing so; Jules showed himself
perfectly amenable to a show of superior force.

Racksole took upstairs with him an old commissionaire who had
been attached to the outdoor service of the hotel for many years - a
grey-haired man, wiry as a terrier and strong as a mastiff. Entering
the bedroom with Jules, whose hands were bound, he told the
commissionaire to remain outside the door.

Jules' bedroom was quite an ordinary apartment, though perhaps
slightly superior to the usual accommodation provided for servants
in the caravanserais of the West End. It was about fourteen by
twelve. It was furnished with a bedstead, a small wardrobe, a -mall
washstand and dressing-table, and two chairs. There were two
hooks behind the door, a strip of carpet by the bed, and some
cheap ornaments on the iron mantelpiece. There was also one
electric light. The window was a little square one, high up from
the floor, and it looked on the inner quadrangle.

The room was on the top storey - the eighth - and from it you had a
view sheer to the ground. Twenty feet below ran a narrow cornice
about a foot wide; three feet or so above the window another and
wider cornice jutted out, and above that was the high steep roof of
the hotel, though you could not see it from the window. As
Racksole examined the window and the outlook, he said to himself
that Jules could not escape by that exit, at any rate. He gave a
glance up the chimney, and saw that the flue was far too small to
admit a man's body.

Then he called in the commissionaire, and together they bound
Jules firmly to the bedstead, allowing him, however, to lie down.
All the while the captive never opened his mouth - merely smiled a
smile of disdain. Finally Racksole removed the ornaments, the
carpet, the chairs and the hooks, and wrenched away the switch of
the electric light. Then he and the commissionaire left the room,
and Racksole locked the door on the outside and put the key in his

'You will keep watch here,' he said to the commissionaire, 'through
the night. You can sit on this chair. Don't go to sleep. If you hear
the slightest noise in the room blow your cab-whistle; I will
arrange to answer the signal. If there is no noise do nothing
whatever. I don't want this talked about, you understand. I shall
trust you; you can trust me.'

'But the servants will see me here when they get up to-morrow,'
said the commissionaire, with a faint smile, 'and they will be pretty
certain to ask what I'm doing of up here. What shall I say to 'em?'

'You've been a soldier, haven't you?' asked Racksole.

'I've seen three campaigns, sir,' was the reply, and, with a gesture
of pardonable pride, the grey-haired fellow pointed to the medals
on his breast.

'Well, supposing you were on sentry duty and some meddlesome
person in camp asked you what you were doing - what should you

'I should tell him to clear off or take the consequences, and pretty
quick too.'

'Do that to-morrow morning, then, if necessary,' said Racksole, and

It was then about one o'clock a.m. The millionaire retired to bed -
not his own bed, but a bed on the seventh storey. He did not,
however, sleep very long. Shortly after dawn he was wide awake,
and thinking busily about Jules.

He was, indeed, very curious to know Jules' story, and he
determined, if the thing could be done at all, by persuasion or
otherwise, to extract it from him. With a man of Theodore
Racksole's temperament there is no time like the present, and at
six o'clock, as the bright morning sun brought gaiety into the
window, he dressed and went upstairs again to the eighth storey.
The commissionaire sat stolid, but alert on his chair, and, at the
sight of his master, rose and saluted.

'Anything happened?' Racksole asked.

'Nothing, sir.'

'Servants say anything?'

'Only a dozen or so of 'em are up yet, sir. One of 'em asked what I
was playing at, and so I told her I was looking after a bull bitch
and a litter of pups that you was very particular about, sir.'

'Good,' said Racksole, as he unlocked the door and entered the
room. All was exactly as he had left it, except that Jules who had
been lying on his back, had somehow turned over and was now
lying on his face. He gazed silently, scowling at the millionaire.
Racksole greeted him and ostentatiously took a revolver from his
hip-pocket and laid it on the dressing-table. Then he seated himself
on the dressing-table by the side of the revolver, his legs dangling
an inch or two above the floor.

'I want to have a talk to you, Jackson,' he began.

'You can talk to me as much as you like,' said Jules. 'I shan't
interfere, you may bet on that.'

'I should like you to answer some questions.'

'That's different,' said Jules. 'I'm not going to answer any questions
while I'm tied up like this. You may bet on that, too.'

'It will pay you to be reasonable,' said Racksole.

'I'm not going to answer any questions while I'm tied up.'

'I'll unfasten your legs, if you like,' Racksole suggested politely,
'then you can sit up. It's no use you pretending you've been
uncomfortable, because I know you haven't. I calculate you've been
treated very handsomely, my son. There you are!' and he loosened
the lower extremities of his prisoner from their bonds. 'Now I
repeat you may as well be reasonable. You may as well admit that
you've been fairly beaten in the game and act accordingly. I was
determined to beat you, by myself, without the police, and I've
done it.'

'You've done yourself,' retorted Jules. 'You've gone against the law.
If you'd had any sense you wouldn't have meddled; you'd have left
everything to the police. They'd have muddled about for a year or
two, and then done nothing. Who's going to tell the police now?
Are you? Are you going to give me up to 'em, and say, "Here, I've
caught him for you". If you do they'll ask you to explain several
things, and then you'll look foolish. One crime doesn't excuse
another, and you'll find that out.'

With unerring insight, Jules had perceived exactly the difficulty of
Racksole's position, and it was certainly a difficulty which
Racksole did not attempt to minimize to himself. He knew well
that it would have to be faced. He did not, however, allow Jules to
guess his thoughts.

'Meanwhile,' he said calmly to the other, 'you're here and my

You've committed a variegated assortment of crimes, and among
them is murder. You are due to be hung. You know that. There is
no reason why I should call in the police at all. It will be perfectly
easy for me to finish you off, as you deserve, myself. I shall only
be carrying out justice, and robbing the hangman of his fee.
Precisely as I brought you into the hotel, I can take you out again.
A few days ago you borrowed or stole a steam yacht at Ostend.
What you have done with it I don't know, nor do I care. But I
strongly suspect that my daughter had a narrow escape of being
murdered on your steam yacht. Now I have a steam yacht of my
own. Suppose I use it as you used yours! Suppose I smuggle you on
to it, steam out to sea, and then ask you to step off it into the ocean
one night. Such things have been done.

Such things will be done again. If I acted so, I should at least, have
the satisfaction of knowing that I had relieved society from the
incubus of a scoundrel.'

'But you won't,' Jules murmured.

'No,' said Racksole steadily, 'I won't - if you behave yourself this
morning. But I swear to you that if you don't I will never rest till
you are dead, police or no police. You don't know Theodore

'I believe you mean it,' Jules exclaimed, with an air of surprised
interest, as though he had discovered something of importance.

'I believe I do,' Racksole resumed. 'Now listen. At the best, you
will be given up to the police. At the worst, I shall deal with you
myself. With the police you may have a chance - you may get off
with twenty years' penal servitude, because, though it is absolutely
certain that you murdered Reginald Dimmock, it would be a little
difficult to prove the case against you. But with me you would
have no chance whatever. I have a few questions to put to you, and
it will depend on how you answer them whether I give you up to
the police or take the law into my own hands. And let me tell you
that the latter course would be much simpler for me. And I would
take it, too, did I not feel that you were a very clever and
exceptional man; did I not have a sort of sneaking admiration for
your detestable skill and ingenuity.'

'You think, then, that I am clever?' said Jules. 'You are right. I am.
I should have been much too clever for you if luck had not been
against me.

You owe your victory, not to skill, but to luck.'

'That is what the vanquished always say. Waterloo was a bit of
pure luck for the English, no doubt, but it was Waterloo all the

Jules yawned elaborately. 'What do you want to know?' he
inquired, with politeness.

'First and foremost, I want to know the names of your accomplices
inside this hotel.'

'I have no more,' said Jules. 'Rocco was the last.'

'Don't begin by lying to me. If you had no accomplice, how did you
contrive that one particular bottle of Romanée-Conti should be
served to his Highness Prince Eugen?'

'Then you discovered that in time, did you?' said Jules. 'I was afraid

Let me explain that that needed no accomplice. The bottle was
topmost in the bin, and naturally it would be taken. Moreover, I
left it sticking out a little further than the rest.'

'You did not arrange, then, that Hubbard should be taken ill the
night before last?'

'I had no idea,' said Jules, 'that the excellent Hubbard was not
enjoying his accustomed health.'

'Tell me,' said Racksole, 'who or what is the origin of your vendetta
against the life of Prince Eugen?'

'I had no vendetta against the life of Prince Eugen,' said Jules, 'at
least, not to begin with. I merely undertook, for a consideration, to
see that Prince Eugen did not have an interview with a certain Mr
Sampson Levi in London before a certain date, that was all. It
seemed simple enough. I had been engaged in far more
complicated transactions before. I was convinced that I could
manage it, with the help of Rocco and Em - and Miss Spencer.'

'Is that woman your wife?'

'She would like to be,' he sneered. 'Please don't interrupt. I had
completed my arrangements, when you so inconsiderately bought
the hotel. I don't mind admitting now that from the very moment
when you came across me that night in the corridor I was secretly
afraid of you, though I scarcely admitted the fact even to myself
then. I thought it safer to shift the scene of our operations to
Ostend. I had meant to deal with Prince Eugen in this hotel, but I
decided, then, to intercept him on the Continent, and I despatched
Miss Spencer with some instructions. Troubles never come singly,
and it happened that just then that fool Dimmock, who had been in
the swim with us, chose to prove refractory. The slightest hitch
would have upset everything, and I was obliged to - to clear him
off the scene. He wanted to back out - he had a bad attack of
conscience, and violent measures were essential. I regret his
untimely decease, but he brought it on himself. Well, everything
was going serenely when you and your brilliant daughter,
apparently determined to meddle, turned up again among us at
Ostend. Only twenty-four hours, however, had to elapse before the
date which had been mentioned to me by my employers. I kept
poor little Eugen for the allotted time, and then you managed to
get hold of him. I do not deny that you scored there, though,
according to my original instructions, you scored too late. The
time had passed, and so, so far as I knew, it didn't matter a pin
whether Prince Eugen saw Mr Sampson Levi or not. But my
employers were still uneasy. They were uneasy even after little
Eugen had lain ill in Ostend for several weeks. It appears that they
feared that even at that date an interview between Prince Eugen
and Mr Sampson Levi might work harm to them. So they applied
to me again. This time they wanted Prince Eugen to be - em -
finished off entirely. They offered high terms.'

'What terms?'

'I had received fifty thousand pounds for the first job, of which
Rocco had half. Rocco was also to be made a member of a certain
famous European order, if things went right. That was what he
coveted far more than the money - the vain fellow! For the second
job I was offered a hundred thousand. A tolerably large sum. I
regret that I have not been able to earn it.'

'Do you mean to tell me,' asked Racksole, horror-struck by this
calm confession, in spite of his previous knowledge, 'that you were
offered a hundred thousand pounds to poison Prince Eugen?'

'You put it rather crudely,' said Jules in reply. 'I prefer to say that I
was offered a hundred thousand pounds if Prince Eugen should die
within a reasonable time.'

'And who were your damnable employers?'

'That, honestly, I do not know.'

'You know, I suppose, who paid you the first fifty thousand
pounds, and who promised you the hundred thousand.'

'Well,' said Jules, 'I know vaguely. I know that he came via Vienna
from - em - Bosnia. My impression was that the affair had some
bearing, direct or indirect, on the projected marriage of the King of
Bosnia. He is a young monarch, scarcely out of political
leading-strings, as it were, and doubtless his Ministers thought that
they had better arrange his marriage for him. They tried last year,
and failed because the Princess whom they had in mind had cast
her sparkling eyes on another Prince. That Prince happened to be
Prince Eugen of Posen. The Ministers of the King of Bosnia knew
exactly the circumstances of Prince Eugen. They knew that he
could not marry without liquidating his debts, and they knew that
he could only liquidate his debts through this Jew, Sampson Levi.
Unfortunately for me, they ultimately wanted to make too sure of
Prince Eugen. They were afraid he might after all arrange his
marriage without the aid of Mr Sampson Levi, and so - well, you
know the rest. . . . It is a pity that the poor little innocent King of
Bosnia can't have the Princess of his Ministers' choice.'

'Then you think that the King himself had no part in this
abominable crime?'

'I think decidedly not.'

'I am glad of that,' said Racksole simply. 'And now, the name of
your immediate employer.'

'He was merely an agent. He called himself Sleszak - S-l-e-s-z-a-k.
But I imagine that that wasn't his real name. I don't know his real
name. An old man, he often used to be found at the Hôtel Ritz,

'Mr Sleszak and I will meet,' said Racksole.

'Not in this world,' said Jules quickly. 'He is dead. I heard only last
night - just before our little tussle.'

There was a silence.

'It is well,' said Racksole at length. 'Prince Eugen lives, despite all
plots. After all, justice is done.'

'Mr Racksole is here, but he can see no one, Miss.' The words
came from behind the door, and the voice was the
commissionaire's. Racksole started up, and went towards the door.

'Nonsense,' was the curt reply, in feminine tones. 'Move aside

The door opened, and Nella entered. There were tears in her eyes.

'Oh! Dad,' she exclaimed, 'I've only just heard you were in the
hotel. We looked for you everywhere. Come at once, Prince Eugen
is dying - ' Then she saw the man sitting on the bed, and stopped.

Later, when Jules was alone again, he remarked to himself, 'I may
get that hundred thousand.' _



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