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- The Grand Babylon Hotel - 26/45 -


of the cuff, and that there were stains of dirt on the left shoulder. A soiled linen collar, which had lost all its starch and was half unbuttoned, partially encircled the captive's neck; his brown boots were unlaced; a cap, a handkerchief, a portion of a watch-chain, and a few gold coins lay on the floor. Racksole flashed the lantern into the corners of the cellar, but he could discover no other furniture except the chair on which the Hereditary Prince of Posen sat and a small deal table on which were a plate and a cup.

'Eugen,' cried Prince Aribert once more, but this time his forlorn nephew made no response whatever, and then Aribert added in a low voice to Racksole: 'Perhaps he cannot see us clearly.'

'But he must surely recognize your voice,' said Racksole, in a hard, gloomy tone. There was a pause, and the two men above ground looked at each other hesitatingly. Each knew that they must enter that cellar and get Prince Eugen out of it, and each was somehow afraid to take the next step.

'Thank God he is not dead!' said Aribert.

'He may be worse than dead!' Racksole replied.

'Worse than - What do you mean?'

'I mean - he may be mad.'

'Come,' Aribert almost shouted, with a sudden access of energy - a wild impulse for action. And, snatching the lantern from Racksole, he rushed into the dark room where they had heard the conversation of Miss Spencer and the lady in the red hat. For a moment Racksole did not stir from the threshold of the window. 'Come,' Prince Aribert repeated, and there was an imperious command in his utterance. 'What are you afraid of?'

'I don't know,' said Racksole, feeling stupid and queer; 'I don't know.'

Then he marched heavily after Prince Aribert into the room. On the mantelpiece were a couple of candles which had been blown out, and in a mechanical, unthinking way, Racksole lighted them, and the two men glanced round the room. It presented no peculiar features: it was just an ordinary room, rather small, rather mean, rather shabby, with an ugly wallpaper and ugly pictures in ugly frames. Thrown over a chair was a man's evening-dress jacket. The door was closed. Prince Aribert turned the knob, but he could not open it.

'It's locked,' he said. 'Evidently they know we're here.'

'Nonsense,' said Racksole brusquely; 'how can they know?' And, taking hold of the knob, he violently shook the door, and it opened. 'I told you it wasn't locked,' he added, and this small success of opening the door seemed to steady the man. It was a curious psychological effect, this terrorizing (for it amounted to that) of two courageous full-grown men by the mere apparition of a helpless creature in a cellar. Gradually they both recovered from it. The next moment they were out in the passage which led to the front door of the house. The front door stood open. They looked into the street, up and down, but there was not a soul in sight. The street, lighted by three gas-lamps only, seemed strangely sinister and mysterious.

'She has gone, that's clear,' said Racksole, meaning the woman with the red hat.

'And Miss Spencer after her, do you think?' questioned Aribert.

'No. She would stay. She would never dare to leave. Let us find the cellar steps.'

The cellar steps were happily not difficult to discover, for in moving a pace backwards Prince Aribert had a narrow escape of precipitating himself to the bottom of them. The lantern showed that they were built on a curve.

Silently Racksole resumed possession of the lantern and went first, the Prince close behind him. At the foot was a short passage, and in this passage crouched the figure of a woman. Her eyes threw back the rays of the lantern, shining like a cat's at midnight. Then, as the men went nearer, they saw that it was Miss Spencer who barred their way. She seemed half to kneel on the stone floor, and in one hand she held what at first appeared to be a dagger, but which proved to be nothing more romantic than a rather long bread-knife.

'I heard you, I heard you,' she exclaimed. 'Get back; you mustn't come here.'

There was a desperate and dangerous look on her face, and her form shook with scarcely controlled passionate energy.

'Now see here, Miss Spencer,' Racksole said calmly, 'I guess we've had enough of this fandango. You'd better get up and clear out, or we'll just have to drag you off.'

He went calmly up to her, the lantern in his hand. Without another word she struck the knife into his arm, and the lantern fell extinguished. Racksole gave a cry, rather of angry surprise than of pain, and retreated a few steps. In the darkness they could still perceive the glint of her eyes.

'I told you you mustn't come here,' the woman said. 'Now get back.'

Racksole positively laughed. It was a queer laugh, but he laughed, and he could not help it. The idea of this woman, this bureau clerk, stopping his progress and that of Prince Aribert by means of a bread-knife aroused his sense of humour. He struck a match, relighted the candle, and faced Miss Spencer once more.

'I'll do it again,' she said, with a note of hard resolve.

'Oh, no, you won't, my girl,' said Racksole; and he pulled out his revolver, cocked it, raised his hand.

'Put down that plaything of yours,' he said firmly.

'No,' she answered.

'I shall shoot.'

She pressed her lips together.

'I shall shoot,' he repeated. 'One - two - three.'

Bang, bang! He had fired twice, purposely missing her. Miss Spencer never blenched. Racksole was tremendously surprised - and he would have been a thousandfold more surprised could he have contrasted her behaviour now with her abject terror on the previous evening when Nella had threatened her.

'You've got a bit of pluck,' he said, 'but it won't help you. Why won't you let us pass?'

As a matter of fact, pluck was just what she had not, really; she had merely subordinated one terror to another. She was desperately afraid of Racksole's revolver, but she was much more afraid of something else.

'Why won't you let us pass?'

'I daren't,' she said, with a plaintive tremor; 'Tom put me in charge.'

That was all. The men could see tears running down her poor wrinkled face.

Theodore Racksole began to take off his light overcoat.

'I see I must take my coat off to you,' he said, and he almost smiled. Then, with a quick movement, he threw the coat over Miss Spencer's head and flew at her, seizing both her arms, while Prince Aribert assisted.

Her struggles ceased - she was beaten.

'That's all right,' said Racksole: 'I could never have used that revolver - to mean business with it, of course.'

They carried her, unresisting, upstairs and on to the upper floor, where they locked her in a bedroom. She lay in the bed as if exhausted.

'Now for my poor Eugen,' said Prince Aribert.

'Don't you think we'd better search the house first?' Racksole suggested; 'it will be safer to know just how we stand. We can't afford any ambushes or things of that kind, you know.'

The Prince agreed, and they searched the house from top to bottom, but found no one. Then, having locked the front door and the french window of the sitting-room, they proceeded again to the cellar.

Here a new obstacle confronted them. The cellar door was, of course, locked; there was no sign of a key, and it appeared to be a heavy door. They were compelled to return to the bedroom where Miss Spencer was incarcerated, in order to demand the key of the cellar from her. She still lay without movement on the bed.

'Tom's got it,' she replied, faintly, to their question: 'Tom's got it, I swear to you. He took it for safety.'

'Then how do you feed your prisoner?' Racksole asked sharply.

'Through the grating,' she answered.

Both men shuddered. They felt she was speaking the truth. For the third time they went to the cellar door. In vain Racksole thrust himself against it; he could do no more than shake it.

'Let's try both together,' said Prince Aribert. 'Now!' There was a crack.

'Again,' said Prince Aribert. There was another crack, and then the upper hinge gave way. The rest was easy. Over the wreck of the door they entered Prince Eugen's prison.

The captive still sat on his chair. The terrific noise and bustle of breaking down the door seemed not to have aroused him from his lethargy, but when Prince Aribert spoke to him in German he


The Grand Babylon Hotel - 26/45

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