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- The Grand Babylon Hotel - 4/45 -
Racksole shrugged his shoulders. 'It is a change from railroads,' he laughed.
'Ah, my friend, you little know what you have bought.'
'Oh! yes I do,' returned Racksole; 'I have bought just the first hotel in the world.'
'That is true, that is true,' Babylon admitted, gazing meditatively at the antique Persian carpet. 'There is nothing, anywhere, like my hotel. But you will regret the purchase, Mr Racksole. It is no business of mine, of course, but I cannot help repeating that you will regret the purchase.'
'I never regret.'
'Then you will begin very soon - perhaps to-night.'
'Why do you say that?'
'Because the Grand Babylon is the Grand Babylon. You think because you control a railroad, or an iron-works, or a line of steamers, therefore you can control anything. But no. Not the Grand Babylon. There is something about the Grand Babylon - ' He threw up his hands.
'Servants rob you, of course.'
'Of course. I suppose I lose a hundred pounds a week in that way. But it is not that I mean. It is the guests. The guests are too - too distinguished.
The great Ambassadors, the great financiers, the great nobles, all the men that move the world, put up under my roof. London is the centre of everything, and my hotel - your hotel - is the centre of London. Once I had a King and a Dowager Empress staying here at the same time. Imagine that!'
'A great honour, Mr Babylon. But wherein lies the difficulty?'
'Mr Racksole,' was the grim reply, 'what has become of your shrewdness - that shrewdness which has made your fortune so immense that even you cannot calculate it? Do you not perceive that the roof which habitually shelters all the force, all the authority of the world, must necessarily also shelter nameless and numberless plotters, schemers, evil-doers, and workers of mischief? The thing is as clear as day - and as dark as night. Mr Racksole, I never know by whom I am surrounded. I never know what is going forward.
Only sometimes I get hints, glimpses of strange acts and strange secrets.
You mentioned my servants. They are almost all good servants, skilled, competent. But what are they besides? For anything I know my fourth sub-chef may be an agent of some European Government. For anything I know my invaluable Miss Spencer may be in the pay of a court dressmaker or a Frankfort banker. Even Rocco may be someone else in addition to Rocco.'
'That makes it all the more interesting,' remarked Theodore Racksole.
'What a long time you have been, Father,' said Nella, when he returned to table No. 17 in the salle manger.
'Only twenty minutes, my dove.'
'But you said two seconds. There is a difference.'
'Well, you see, I had to wait for the steak to cook.'
'Did you have much trouble in getting my birthday treat?'
'No trouble. But it didn't come quite as cheap as you said.'
'What do you mean, Father?'
'Only that I've bought the entire hotel. But don't split.'
'Father, you always were a delicious parent. Shall you give me the hotel for a birthday present?'
'No. I shall run it - as an amusement. By the way, who is that chair for?'
He noticed that a third cover had been laid at the table.
'That is for a friend of mine who came in about five minutes ago. Of course I told him he must share our steak. He'll be here in a moment.'
'May I respectfully inquire his name?'
'Dimmock - Christian name Reginald; profession, English companion to Prince Aribert of Posen. I met him when I was in St Petersburg with cousin Hetty last fall. Oh; here he is. Mr Dimmock, this is my dear father. He has succeeded with the steak.'
Theodore Racksole found himself confronted by a very young man, with deep black eyes, and a fresh, boyish expression. They began to talk.
Jules approached with the steak. Racksole tried to catch the waiter's eye, but could not. The dinner proceeded.
'Oh, Father!' cried Nella, 'what a lot of mustard you have taken!'
'Have I?' he said, and then he happened to glance into a mirror on his left hand between two windows. He saw the reflection of Jules, who stood behind his chair, and he saw Jules give a slow, significant, ominous wink to Mr Dimmock - Christian name, Reginald.
He examined his mustard in silence. He thought that perhaps he had helped himself rather plenteously to mustard.
Chapter Three AT THREE A.M.
MR REGINALD DIMMOCK proved himself, despite his extreme youth, to be a man of the world and of experiences, and a practised talker. Conversation between him and Nella Racksole seemed never to flag. They chattered about St Petersburg, and the ice on the Neva, and the tenor at the opera who had been exiled to Siberia, and the quality of Russian tea, and the sweetness of Russian champagne, and various other aspects of Muscovite existence. Russia exhausted, Nella lightly outlined her own doings since she had met the young man in the Tsar's capital, and this recital brought the topic round to London, where it stayed till the final piece of steak was eaten. Theodore Racksole noticed that Mr Dimmock gave very meagre information about his own movements, either past or future. He regarded the youth as a typical hanger-on of Courts, and wondered how he had obtained his post of companion to Prince Aribert of Posen, and who Prince Aribert of Posen might be. The millionaire thought he had once heard of Posen, but he wasn't sure; he rather fancied it was one of those small nondescript German States of which five-sixths of the subjects are Palace officials, and the rest charcoal-burners or innkeepers. Until the meal was nearly over, Racksole said little - perhaps his thoughts were too busy with Jules' wink to Mr Dimmock, but when ices had been followed by coffee, he decided that it might be as well, in the interests of the hotel, to discover something about his daughter's friend. He never for an instant questioned her right to possess her own friends; he had always left her in the most amazing liberty, relying on her inherited good sense to keep her out of mischief; but, quite apart from the wink, he was struck by Nella's attitude towards Mr Dimmock, an attitude in which an amiable scorn was blended with an evident desire to propitiate and please.
'Nella tells me, Mr Dimmock, that you hold a confidential position with Prince Aribert of Posen,' said Racksole. 'You will pardon an American's ignorance, but is Prince Aribert a reigning Prince - what, I believe, you call in Europe, a Prince Regnant?'
'His Highness is not a reigning Prince, nor ever likely to be,' answered Dimmock. 'The Grand Ducal Throne of Posen is occupied by his Highness's nephew, the Grand Duke Eugen.'
'Nephew?' cried Nella with astonishment.
'Why not, dear lady?'
'But Prince Aribert is surely very young?'
'The Prince, by one of those vagaries of chance which occur sometimes in the history of families, is precisely the same age as the Grand Duke. The late Grand Duke's father was twice married. Hence this youthfulness on the part of an uncle.'
'How delicious to be the uncle of someone as old as yourself! But I suppose it is no fun for Prince Aribert. I suppose he has to be frightfully respectful and obedient, and all that, to his nephew?'
'The Grand Duke and my Serene master are like brothers. At present, of course, Prince Aribert is nominally heir to the throne, but as no doubt you are aware, the Grand Duke will shortly marry a near relative of the Emperor's, and should there be a family - ' Mr Dimmock stopped and shrugged his straight shoulders. 'The Grand Duke,' he went on, without finishing the last sentence, 'would much prefer Prince Aribert to be his successor. He really doesn't want to marry. Between ourselves, strictly between ourselves, he regards marriage as rather a bore. But, of course, being a German Grand Duke, he is bound to marry. He owes it to his country, to Posen.'
'How large is Posen?' asked Racksole bluntly.
'Father,' Nella interposed laughing, 'you shouldn't ask such inconvenient questions. You ought to have guessed that it isn't etiquette to inquire about the size of a German Dukedom.'
'I am sure,' said Dimmock, with a polite smile, 'that the Grand Duke is as much amused as anyone at the size of his territory. I forget the exact acreage, but I remember that once Prince Aribert and myself walked across it and back again in a single day.'
'Then the Grand Duke cannot travel very far within his own
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