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The Grand Babylon Hotel

28. The State Bedroom Once More
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 impossible!'
'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 room.
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