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- The Grand Babylon Hotel - 3/45 -
'Of New York?' questioned a voice at the door, with a slight foreign accent.
The millionaire turned sharply, and saw a rather short, French-looking man, with a bald head, a grey beard, a long and perfectly-built frock coat, eye-glasses attached to a minute silver chain, and blue eyes that seemed to have the transparent innocence of a maid's.
'There is only one,' said Theodore Racksole succinctly.
'You wish to see me?' the new-comer suggested.
'You are Mr Felix Babylon?'
The man bowed.
'At this moment I wish to see you more than anyone else in the world,' said Racksole. 'I am consumed and burnt up with a desire to see you, Mr Babylon.
I only want a few minutes' quiet chat. I fancy I can settle my business in that time.'
With a gesture Mr Babylon invited the millionaire down a side corridor, at the end of which was Mr Babylon's private room, a miracle of Louis XV furniture and tapestry: like most unmarried men with large incomes, Mr Babylon had 'tastes' of a highly expensive sort.
The landlord and his guest sat down opposite each other. Theodore Racksole had met with the usual millionaire's luck in this adventure, for Mr Babylon made a practice of not allowing himself to be interviewed by his guests, however distinguished, however wealthy, however pertinacious. If he had not chanced to enter Miss Spencer's office at that precise moment, and if he had not been impressed in a somewhat peculiar way by the physiognomy of the millionaire, not all Mr Racksole's American energy and ingenuity would have availed for a confabulation with the owner of the Grand Babylon Hotel that night. Theodore Racksole, however, was ignorant that a mere accident had served him. He took all the credit to himself.
'I read in the New York papers some months ago,' Theodore started, without even a clearing of the throat, 'that this hotel of yours, Mr Babylon, was to be sold to a limited company, but it appears that the sale was not carried out.'
'It was not,' answered Mr Babylon frankly, 'and the reason was that the middle-men between the proposed company and myself wished to make a large secret profit, and I declined to be a party to such a profit. They were firm; I was firm; and so the affair came to nothing.'
'The agreed price was satisfactory?'
'May I ask what the price was?'
'Are you a buyer, Mr Racksole?'
'Are you a seller, Mr Babylon?'
'I am,' said Babylon, 'on terms. The price was four hundred thousand pounds, including the leasehold and goodwill. But I sell only on the condition that the buyer does not transfer the property to a limited company at a higher figure.'
'I will put one question to you, Mr Babylon,' said the millionaire. 'What have your profits averaged during the last four years?'
'Thirty-four thousand pounds per annum.'
'I buy,' said Theodore Racksole, smiling contentedly; 'and we will, if you please, exchange contract-letters on the spot.'
'You come quickly to a resolution, Mr Racksole. But perhaps you have been considering this question for a long time?'
'On the contrary,' Racksole looked at his watch, 'I have been considering it for six minutes.'
Felix Babylon bowed, as one thoroughly accustomed to eccentricity of wealth.
'The beauty of being well-known,' Racksole continued, 'is that you needn't trouble about preliminary explanations. You, Mr Babylon, probably know all about me. I know a good deal about you. We can take each other for granted without reference. Really, it is as simple to buy an hotel or a railroad as it is to buy a watch, provided one is equal to the transaction.'
'Precisely,' agreed Mr Babylon smiling. 'Shall we draw up the little informal contract? There are details to be thought of. But it occurs to me that you cannot have dined yet, and might prefer to deal with minor questions after dinner.'
'I have not dined,' said the millionaire, with emphasis, 'and in that connexion will you do me a favour? Will you send for Mr Rocco?'
'You wish to see him, naturally.'
'I do,' said the millionaire, and added, 'about my dinner.'
'Rocco is a great man,' murmured Mr Babylon as he touched the bell, ignoring the last words. 'My compliments to Mr Rocco,' he said to the page who answered his summons, 'and if it is quite convenient I should be glad to see him here for a moment.'
'What do you give Rocco?' Racksole inquired.
'Two thousand a year and the treatment of an Ambassador.'
'I shall give him the treatment of an Ambassador and three thousand.'
'You will be wise,' said Felix Babylon.
At that moment Rocco came into the room, very softly - a man of forty, thin, with long, thin hands, and an inordinately long brown silky moustache.
'Rocco,' said Felix Babylon, 'let me introduce Mr Theodore Racksole, of New York.'
'Sharmed,' said Rocco, bowing. 'Ze - ze, vat you call it, millionaire?'
'Exactly,' Racksole put in, and continued quickly: 'Mr Rocco, I wish to acquaint you before any other person with the fact that I have purchased the Grand Babylon Hotel. If you think well to afford me the privilege of retaining your services I shall be happy to offer you a remuneration of three thousand a year.'
'Tree, you said?'
'And now, Mr Rocco, will you oblige me very much by ordering a plain beefsteak and a bottle of Bass to be served by Jules - I particularly desire Jules - at table No. 17 in the dining-room in ten minutes from now? And will you do me the honour of lunching with me to-morrow?'
Mr Rocco gasped, bowed, muttered something in French, and departed.
Five minutes later the buyer and seller of the Grand Babylon Hotel had each signed a curt document, scribbled out on the hotel note-paper. Felix Babylon asked no questions, and it was this heroic absence of curiosity, of surprise on his part, that more than anything else impressed Theodore Racksole. How many hotel proprietors in the world, Racksole asked himself, would have let that beef-steak and Bass go by without a word of comment.
'From what date do you wish the purchase to take effect?' asked Babylon.
'Oh,' said Racksole lightly, 'it doesn't matter. Shall we say from to-night?'
'As you will. I have long wished to retire. And now that the moment has come - and so dramatically - I am ready. I shall return to Switzerland. One cannot spend much money there, but it is my native land. I shall be the richest man in Switzerland.' He smiled with a kind of sad amusement.
'I suppose you are fairly well off?' said Racksole, in that easy familiar style of his, as though the idea had just occurred to him.
'Besides what I shall receive from you, I have half a million invested.'
'Then you will be nearly a millionaire?'
Felix Babylon nodded.
'I congratulate you, my dear sir,' said Racksole, in the tone of a judge addressing a newly-admitted barrister. 'Nine hundred thousand pounds, expressed in francs, will sound very nice - in Switzerland.'
'Of course to you, Mr Racksole, such a sum would be poverty. Now if one might guess at your own wealth?' Felix Babylon was imitating the other's freedom.
'I do not know, to five millions or so, what I am worth,' said Racksole, with sincerity, his tone indicating that he would have been glad to give the information if it were in his power.
'You have had anxieties, Mr Racksole?'
'Still have them. I am now holiday-making in London with my daughter in order to get rid of them for a time.'
'Is the purchase of hotels your notion of relaxation, then?'
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