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- The Grand Babylon Hotel - 2/45 -
syllable of the guest's name.
'Miss Racksole - she's in No. 111.'
Jules paused, and stroked his left whisker as it lay on his gleaming white collar.
'She's where?' he queried, with a peculiar emphasis.
'No. 111. I couldn't help it. There was no other room with a bathroom and dressing-room on that floor.' Miss Spencer's voice had an appealing tone of excuse.
'Why didn't you tell Mr Theodore Racksole and Miss Racksole that we were unable to accommodate them?'
'Because Babs was within hearing.'
Only three people in the wide world ever dreamt of applying to Mr Felix Babylon the playful but mean abbreviation - Babs: those three were Jules, Miss Spencer, and Rocco. Jules had invented it. No one but he would have had either the wit or the audacity to do so.
'You'd better see that Miss Racksole changes her room to-night,' Jules said after another pause. 'Leave it to me: I'll fix it. Au revoir! It's three minutes to eight. I shall take charge of the dining-room myself to-night.'
And Jules departed, rubbing his fine white hands slowly and meditatively. It was a trick of his, to rub his hands with a strange, roundabout motion, and the action denoted that some unusual excitement was in the air.
At eight o'clock precisely dinner was served in the immense salle manger, that chaste yet splendid apartment of white and gold. At a small table near one of the windows a young lady sat alone. Her frocks said Paris, but her face unmistakably said New York. It was a self-possessed and bewitching face, the face of a woman thoroughly accustomed to doing exactly what she liked, when she liked, how she liked: the face of a woman who had taught hundreds of gilded young men the true art of fetching and carrying, and who, by twenty years or so of parental spoiling, had come to regard herself as the feminine equivalent of the Tsar of All the Russias. Such women are only made in America, and they only come to their full bloom in Europe, which they imagine to be a continent created by Providence for their diversion.
The young lady by the window glanced disapprovingly at the menu card. Then she looked round the dining-room, and, while admiring the diners, decided that the room itself was rather small and plain. Then she gazed through the open window, and told herself that though the Thames by twilight was passable enough, it was by no means level with the Hudson, on whose shores her father had a hundred thousand dollar country cottage. Then she returned to the menu, and with a pursing of lovely lips said that there appeared to be nothing to eat.
'Sorry to keep you waiting, Nella.' It was Mr Racksole, the intrepid millionaire who had dared to order an Angel Kiss in the smoke-room of the Grand Babylon. Nella - her proper name was Helen - smiled at her parent cautiously, reserving to herself the right to scold if she should feel so inclined.
'You always are late, father,' she said.
'Only on a holiday,' he added. 'What is there to eat?'
'Then let's have it. I'm hungry. I'm never so hungry as when I'm being seriously idle.'
'Consommé Britannia,' she began to read out from the menu, 'Saumon d'Ecosse, Sauce Genoise, Aspics de Homard. Oh, heavens! Who wants these horrid messes on a night like this?'
'But, Nella, this is the best cooking in Europe,' he protested.
'Say, father,' she said, with seeming irrelevance, 'had you forgotten it's my birthday to-morrow?'
'Have I ever forgotten your birthday, O most costly daughter?'
'On the whole you've been a most satisfactory dad,' she answered sweetly, 'and to reward you I'll be content this year with the cheapest birthday treat you ever gave me. Only I'll have it to-night.'
'Well,' he said, with the long-suffering patience, the readiness for any surprise, of a parent whom Nella had thoroughly trained, 'what is it?'
'It's this. Let's have filleted steak and a bottle of Bass for dinner to-night. It will be simply exquisite. I shall love it.'
'But my dear Nella,' he exclaimed, 'steak and beer at Felix 's! It's impossible! Moreover, young women still under twenty-three cannot be permitted to drink Bass.'
'I said steak and Bass, and as for being twenty-three, shall be going in twenty-four to-morrow.'
Miss Racksole set her small white teeth.
There was a gentle cough. Jules stood over them. It must have been out of a pure spirit of adventure that he had selected this table for his own services. Usually Jules did not personally wait at dinner. He merely hovered observant, like a captain on the bridge during the mate's watch. Regular frequenters of the hotel felt themselves honoured when Jules attached himself to their tables.
Theodore Racksole hesitated one second, and then issued the order with a fine air of carelessness:
'Filleted steak for two, and a bottle of Bass.' It was the bravest act of Theodore Racksole's life, and yet at more than one previous crisis a high courage had not been lacking to him.
'It's not in the menu, sir,' said Jules the imperturbable.
'Never mind. Get it. We want it.'
'Very good, sir.'
Jules walked to the service-door, and, merely affecting to look behind, came immediately back again.
'Mr Rocco's compliments, sir, and he regrets to be unable to serve steak and Bass to-night, sir.'
'Mr Rocco?' questioned Racksole lightly.
'Mr Rocco,' repeated Jules with firmness.
'And who is Mr Rocco?'
'Mr Rocco is our chef, sir.' Jules had the expression of a man who is asked to explain who Shakespeare was.
The two men looked at each other. It seemed incredible that Theodore Racksole, the ineffable Racksole, who owned a thousand miles of railway, several towns, and sixty votes in Congress, should be defied by a waiter, or even by a whole hotel. Yet so it was. When Europe's effete back is against the wall not a regiment of millionaires can turn its flank. Jules had the calm expression of a strong man sure of victory. His face said: 'You beat me once, but not this time, my New York friend!'
As for Nella, knowing her father, she foresaw interesting events, and waited confidently for the steak. She did not feel hungry, and she could afford to wait.
'Excuse me a moment, Nella,' said Theodore Racksole quietly, 'I shall be back in about two seconds,' and he strode out of the salle à manger. No one in the room recognized the millionaire, for he was unknown to London, this being his first visit to Europe for over twenty years. Had anyone done so, and caught the expression on his face, that man might have trembled for an explosion which should have blown the entire Grand Babylon into the Thames.
Jules retired strategically to a corner. He had fired; it was the antagonist's turn. A long and varied experience had taught Jules that a guest who embarks on the subjugation of a waiter is almost always lost; the waiter has so many advantages in such a contest.
Chapter Two HOW MR RACKSOLE OBTAINED HIS DINNER
NEVERTHELESS, there are men with a confirmed habit of getting their own way, even as guests in an exclusive hotel: and Theodore Racksole had long since fallen into that useful practice - except when his only daughter Helen, motherless but high-spirited girl, chose to think that his way crossed hers, in which case Theodore capitulated and fell back. But when Theodore and his daughter happened to be going one and the same road, which was pretty often, then Heaven alone might help any obstacle that was so ill-advised as to stand in their path. Jules, great and observant man though he was, had not noticed the terrible projecting chins of both father and daughter, otherwise it is possible he would have reconsidered the question of the steak and Bass.
Theodore Racksole went direct to the entrance-hall of the hotel, and entered Miss Spencer's sanctum.
'I want to see Mr Babylon,' he said, 'without the delay of an instant.'
Miss Spencer leisurely raised her flaxen head.
'I am afraid - ,' she began the usual formula. It was part of her daily duty to discourage guests who desired to see Mr Babylon.
'No, no,' said Racksole quickly, 'I don't want any "I'm afraids." This is business. If you had been the ordinary hotel clerk I should have slipped you a couple of sovereigns into your hand, and the thing would have been done.
As you are not - as you are obviously above bribes - I merely say to you, I must see Mr Babylon at once on an affair of the utmost urgency. My name is Racksole - Theodore Racksole.'
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