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The Grand Babylon Hotel, a novel by Arnold Bennett


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_ WHEN, immediately after the episode of the bottle of
Romanée-Conti in the State dining-room, Prince Aribert and old
Hans found that Prince Eugen had sunk in an unconscious heap
over his chair, both the former thought, at the first instant, that
Eugen must have already tasted the poisoned wine. But a moment's
reflection showed that this was not possible. If the Hereditary
Prince of Posen was dying or dead, his condition was due to some
other agency than the Romanée-Conti. Aribert bent over him, and
a powerful odour from the man's lips at once disclosed the cause of
the disaster: it was the odour of laudanum. Indeed, the smell of
that sinister drug seemed now to float heavily over the whole table.
Across Aribert's mind there flashed then the true explanation.
Prince Eugen, taking advantage of Aribert's attention being
momentarily diverted; and yielding to a sudden impulse of despair,
had decided to poison himself, and had carried out his intention on
the spot.

The laudanum must have been already in his pocket, and this fact
went to prove that the unfortunate Prince had previously
contemplated such a proceeding, even after his definite promise.
Aribert remembered now with painful vividness his nephew's
words: 'I withdraw my promise. Observe that - I withdraw it.' It
must have been instantly after the utterance of that formal
withdrawal that Eugen attempted to destroy himself.

'It's laudanum, Hans,' Aribert exclaimed, rather helplessly.

'Surely his Highness has not taken poison?' said Hans. 'It is

'I fear it is only too possible,' said the other. 'It's laudanum. What
are we to do? Quick, man!'

'His Highness must be roused, Prince. He must have an emetic. We
had better carry him to the bedroom.'

They did, and laid him on the great bed; and then Aribert mixed an
emetic of mustard and water, and administered it, but without any
effect. The sufferer lay motionless, with every muscle relaxed. His
skin was ice-cold to the touch, and the eyelids, half-drawn, showed
that the pupils were painfully contracted.

'Go out, and send for a doctor, Hans. Say that Prince Eugen has
been suddenly taken ill, but that it isn't serious. The truth must
never be known.'

'He must be roused, sire,' Hans said again, as he hurried from the

Aribert lifted his nephew from the bed, shook him, pinched him,
flicked him cruelly, shouted at him, dragged him about, but to no
avail. At length he desisted, from mere physical fatigue, and laid
the Prince back again on the bed. Every minute that elapsed
seemed an hour. Alone with the unconscious organism in the
silence of the great stately chamber, under the cold yellow glare of
the electric lights, Aribert became a prey to the most despairing
thoughts. The tragedy of his nephew's career forced itself upon
him, and it occurred to him that an early and shameful death had
all along been inevitable for this good-natured, weak-purposed,
unhappy child of a historic throne. A little good fortune, and his
character, so evenly balanced between right and wrong, might
have followed the proper path, and Eugen might have figured at
any rate with dignity on the European stage. But now it appeared
that all was over, the last stroke played. And in this disaster
Aribert saw the ruin of his own hopes. For Aribert would have to
occupy his nephew's throne, and he felt instinctively that nature
had not cut him out for a throne. By a natural impulse he inwardly
rebelled against the prospect of monarchy. Monarchy meant so
much for which he knew himself to be entirely unfitted. It meant a
political marriage, which means a forced marriage, a union against
inclination. And then what of Nella - Nella!

Hans returned. 'I have sent for the nearest doctor, and also for a
specialist,' he said.

'Good,' said Aribert. 'I hope they will hurry.' Then he sat down and
wrote a card. 'Take this yourself to Miss Racksole. If she is out of
the hotel, ascertain where she is and follow her. Understand, it is
of the first importance.'

Hans bowed, and departed for the second time, and Aribert was
alone again.

He gazed at Eugen, and made another frantic attempt to rouse him
from the deadly stupor, but it was useless. He walked away to the
window: through the opened casement he could hear the tinkle of
passing hansoms on the Embankment below, whistles of
door-keepers, and the hoot of steam tugs on the river. The world
went on as usual, it appeared. It was an absurd world.

He desired nothing better than to abandon his princely title, and
live as a plain man, the husband of the finest woman on earth. . . .
But now! . . .

Pah! How selfish he was, to be thinking of himself when Eugen lay
dying. Yet - Nella!

The door opened, and a man entered, who was obviously the
doctor. A few curt questions, and he had grasped the essentials of
the case. 'Oblige me by ringing the bell, Prince. I shall want some
hot water, and an able-bodied man and a nurse.'

'Who wants a nurse?' said a voice, and Nella came quietly in. 'I am
a nurse,' she added to the doctor, 'and at your orders.'

The next two hours were a struggle between life and death. The
first doctor, a specialist who followed him, Nella, Prince Aribert,
and old Hans formed, as it were, a league to save the dying man.
None else in the hotel knew the real seriousness of the case. When
a Prince falls ill, and especially by his own act, the precise truth is
not issued broadcast to the universe.

According to official intelligence, a Prince is never seriously ill
until he is dead. Such is statecraft.

The worst feature of Prince Eugen's case was that emetics proved

Neither of the doctors could explain their failure, but it was only
too apparent. The league was reduced to helplessness. At last the
great specialist from Manchester Square gave it out that there was
no chance for Prince Eugen unless the natural vigour of his
constitution should prove capable of throwing off the poison
unaided by scientific assistance, as a drunkard can sleep off his
potion. Everything had been tried, even to artificial respiration and
the injection of hot coffee. Having emitted this pronouncement,
the great specialist from Manchester Square left. It was one o'clock
in the morning. By one of those strange and futile coincidences
which sometimes startle us by their subtle significance, the
specialist met Theodore Racksole and his captive as they were
entering the hotel. Neither had the least suspicion of the other's

In the State bedroom the small group of watchers surrounded the
bed. The slow minutes filed away in dreary procession. Another
hour passed. Then the figure on the bed, hitherto so motionless,
twitched and moved; the lips parted.

'There is hope,' said the doctor, and administered a stimulant
which was handed to him by Nella.

In a quarter of an hour the patient had regained consciousness. For
the ten thousandth time in the history of medicine a sound
constitution had accomplished a miracle impossible to the
accumulated medical skill of centuries.

In due course the doctor left, saying that Prince Eugen was 'on the
high road to recovery,' and promising to come again within a few
hours. Morning had dawned. Nella drew the great curtains, and let
in a flood of sunlight.

Old Hans, overcome by fatigue, dozed in a chair in a far corner of
the room.

The reaction had been too much for him. Nella and Prince Aribert
looked at each other. They had not exchanged a word about
themselves, yet each knew what the other had been thinking. They
clasped hands with a perfect understanding. Their brief
love-making had been of the silent kind, and it was silent now. No
word was uttered. A shadow had passed from over them, but only
their eyes expressed relief and joy.

'Aribert!' The faint call came from the bed. Aribert went to the
bedside, while Nella remained near the window.

'What is it, Eugen?' he said. 'You are better now.'

'You think so?' murmured the other. 'I want you to forgive me for
all this, Aribert. I must have caused you an intolerable trouble. I
did it so clumsily; that is what annoys me. Laudanum was a feeble
expedient; but I could think of nothing else, and I daren't ask
anyone for advice. I was obliged to go out and buy the stuff for
myself. It was all very awkward.

But, thank goodness, it has not been ineffectual.'

'What do you mean, Eugen? You are better. In a day or so you will
be perfectly recovered.'

'I am dying,' said Eugen quietly. 'Do not be deceived. I die because
I wish to die. It is bound to be so. I know by the feel of my heart.
In a few hours it will be over. The throne of Posen will be yours,
Aribert. You will fill it more worthily than I have done. Don't let
them know over there that I poisoned myself. Swear Hans to
secrecy; swear the doctors to secrecy; and breathe no word
yourself. I have been a fool, but I do not wish it to be known that I
was also a coward. Perhaps it is not cowardice; perhaps it is
courage, after all - courage to cut the knot. I could not have
survived the disgrace of any revelations, Aribert, and revelations
would have been sure to come. I have made a fool of myself, but I
am ready to pay for it. We of Posen - we always pay - everything
except our debts. Ah! those debts! Had it not been for those I could
have faced her who was to have been my wife, to have shared my
throne. I could have hidden my past, and begun again. With her
help I really could have begun again. But Fate has been against me
- always! always! By the way, what was that plot against me,
Aribert? I forget, I forget.'

His eyes closed. There was a sudden noise. Old Hans had slipped
from his chair to the floor. He picked himself up, dazed, and crept
shamefacedly out of the room.

Aribert took his nephew's hand.

'Nonsense, Eugen! You are dreaming. You will be all right soon.
Pull yourself together.'

'All because of a million,' the sick man moaned. 'One miserable
million English pounds. The national debt of Posen is fifty
millions, and I, the Prince of Posen, couldn't borrow one. If I could
have got it, I might have held my head up again. Good-bye,
Aribert... . Who is that girl?'

Aribert looked up. Nella was standing silent at the foot of the bed,
her eyes moist. She came round to the bedside, and put her hand
on the patient's heart. Scarcely could she feel its pulsation, and to
Aribert her eyes expressed a sudden despair.

At that moment Hans re-entered the room and beckoned to her.

'I have heard that Herr Racksole has returned to the hotel,' he
whispered, 'and that he has captured that man Jules, who they say
is such a villain.'

Several times during the night Nella inquired for her father, but
could gain no knowledge of his whereabouts. Now, at half-past six
in the morning, a rumour had mysteriously spread among the
servants of the hotel about the happenings of the night before. How
it had originated no one could have determined, but it had

'Where is my father?' Nella asked of Hans.

He shrugged his shoulders, and pointed upwards. 'Somewhere at
the top, they say.'

Nella almost ran out of the room. Her interruption of the interview
between Jules and Theodore Racksole has already been described.
As she came downstairs with her father she said again, 'Prince
Eugen is dying - but I think you can save him.'

'I?' exclaimed Theodore.

'Yes,' she repeated positively. 'I will tell you what I want you to do,
and you must do it.' _



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