The Grand Babylon Hotel
8. Arrival And Departure Of The Baroness
ON the following morning, just before lunch, a lady, accompanied by a maid and
a considerable quantity of luggage, came to the Grand Babylon Hotel. She was a
plump, little old lady, with white hair and an old-fashioned bonnet, and she had a
quaint, simple smile of surprise at everything in general.
Nevertheless, she gave the impression of belonging to some aristocracy, though
not the English aristocracy. Her tone to her maid, whom she addressed in broken
English - the girl being apparently English - was distinctly insolent, with the calm,
unconscious insolence peculiar to a certain type of Continental nobility. The
name on the lady's card ran thus: 'Baroness Zerlinski'. She desired rooms on the
third floor. It happened that Nella was in the bureau.
'On the third floor, madam?' questioned Nella, in her best clerkly manner.
'I did say on de tird floor,' said the plump little old lady.
'We have accommodation on the second floor.'
'I wish to be high up, out of de dust and in de light,' explained the Baroness.
'We have no suites on the third floor, madam.'
'Never mind, no mattaire! Have you not two rooms that communicate?'
Nella consulted her books, rather awkwardly.
'Numbers 122 and 123 communicate.'
'Or is it 121 and 122? the little old lady remarked quickly, and then bit her lip.
'I beg your pardon. I should have said 121 and 122.'
At the moment Nella regarded the Baroness's correction of her figures as a
curious chance, but afterwards, when the Baroness had ascended in the lift, the
thing struck her as somewhat strange. Perhaps the Baroness Zerlinski had
stayed at the hotel before. For the sake of convenience an index of visitors to the
hotel was kept and the index extended back for thirty years. Nella examined it,
but it did not contain the name of Zerlinski. Then it was that Nella began to
imagine, what had swiftly crossed her mind when first the Baroness presented
herself at the bureau, that the features of the Baroness were remotely familiar to
her. She thought, not that she had seen the old lady's face before, but that she
had seen somewhere, some time, a face of a similar cast. It occurred to Nella to
look at the 'Almanach de Gotha' - that record of all the mazes of Continental blue
blood; but the 'Almanach de Gotha' made no reference to any barony of Zerlinski.
Nella inquired where the Baroness meant to take lunch, and was informed that a
table had been reserved for her in the dining-room, and she at once decided to
lunch in the dining-room herself. Seated in a corner, half-hidden by a pillar, she
could survey all the guests, and watch each group as it entered or left. Presently
the Baroness appeared, dressed in black, with a tiny lace shawl, despite the
June warmth; very stately, very quaint, and gently smiling. Nella observed her
intently. The lady ate heartily, working without haste and without delay through
the elaborate menu of the luncheon. Nella noticed that she had beautiful white
teeth. Then a remarkable thing happened. A cream puff was served to the
Baroness by way of sweets, and Nella was astonished to see the little lady
remove the top, and with a spoon quietly take something from the interior which