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- The Grand Babylon Hotel - 40/45 -
however, sleep very long. Shortly after dawn he was wide awake, and thinking busily about Jules.
He was, indeed, very curious to know Jules' story, and he determined, if the thing could be done at all, by persuasion or otherwise, to extract it from him. With a man of Theodore Racksole's temperament there is no time like the present, and at six o'clock, as the bright morning sun brought gaiety into the window, he dressed and went upstairs again to the eighth storey. The commissionaire sat stolid, but alert on his chair, and, at the sight of his master, rose and saluted.
'Anything happened?' Racksole asked.
'Servants say anything?'
'Only a dozen or so of 'em are up yet, sir. One of 'em asked what I was playing at, and so I told her I was looking after a bull bitch and a litter of pups that you was very particular about, sir.'
'Good,' said Racksole, as he unlocked the door and entered the room. All was exactly as he had left it, except that Jules who had been lying on his back, had somehow turned over and was now lying on his face. He gazed silently, scowling at the millionaire. Racksole greeted him and ostentatiously took a revolver from his hip-pocket and laid it on the dressing-table. Then he seated himself on the dressing-table by the side of the revolver, his legs dangling an inch or two above the floor.
'I want to have a talk to you, Jackson,' he began.
'You can talk to me as much as you like,' said Jules. 'I shan't interfere, you may bet on that.'
'I should like you to answer some questions.'
'That's different,' said Jules. 'I'm not going to answer any questions while I'm tied up like this. You may bet on that, too.'
'It will pay you to be reasonable,' said Racksole.
'I'm not going to answer any questions while I'm tied up.'
'I'll unfasten your legs, if you like,' Racksole suggested politely, 'then you can sit up. It's no use you pretending you've been uncomfortable, because I know you haven't. I calculate you've been treated very handsomely, my son. There you are!' and he loosened the lower extremities of his prisoner from their bonds. 'Now I repeat you may as well be reasonable. You may as well admit that you've been fairly beaten in the game and act accordingly. I was determined to beat you, by myself, without the police, and I've done it.'
'You've done yourself,' retorted Jules. 'You've gone against the law. If you'd had any sense you wouldn't have meddled; you'd have left everything to the police. They'd have muddled about for a year or two, and then done nothing. Who's going to tell the police now? Are you? Are you going to give me up to 'em, and say, "Here, I've caught him for you". If you do they'll ask you to explain several things, and then you'll look foolish. One crime doesn't excuse another, and you'll find that out.'
With unerring insight, Jules had perceived exactly the difficulty of Racksole's position, and it was certainly a difficulty which Racksole did not attempt to minimize to himself. He knew well that it would have to be faced. He did not, however, allow Jules to guess his thoughts.
'Meanwhile,' he said calmly to the other, 'you're here and my prisoner.
You've committed a variegated assortment of crimes, and among them is murder. You are due to be hung. You know that. There is no reason why I should call in the police at all. It will be perfectly easy for me to finish you off, as you deserve, myself. I shall only be carrying out justice, and robbing the hangman of his fee. Precisely as I brought you into the hotel, I can take you out again. A few days ago you borrowed or stole a steam yacht at Ostend. What you have done with it I don't know, nor do I care. But I strongly suspect that my daughter had a narrow escape of being murdered on your steam yacht. Now I have a steam yacht of my own. Suppose I use it as you used yours! Suppose I smuggle you on to it, steam out to sea, and then ask you to step off it into the ocean one night. Such things have been done.
Such things will be done again. If I acted so, I should at least, have the satisfaction of knowing that I had relieved society from the incubus of a scoundrel.'
'But you won't,' Jules murmured.
'No,' said Racksole steadily, 'I won't - if you behave yourself this morning. But I swear to you that if you don't I will never rest till you are dead, police or no police. You don't know Theodore Racksole.'
'I believe you mean it,' Jules exclaimed, with an air of surprised interest, as though he had discovered something of importance.
'I believe I do,' Racksole resumed. 'Now listen. At the best, you will be given up to the police. At the worst, I shall deal with you myself. With the police you may have a chance - you may get off with twenty years' penal servitude, because, though it is absolutely certain that you murdered Reginald Dimmock, it would be a little difficult to prove the case against you. But with me you would have no chance whatever. I have a few questions to put to you, and it will depend on how you answer them whether I give you up to the police or take the law into my own hands. And let me tell you that the latter course would be much simpler for me. And I would take it, too, did I not feel that you were a very clever and exceptional man; did I not have a sort of sneaking admiration for your detestable skill and ingenuity.'
'You think, then, that I am clever?' said Jules. 'You are right. I am. I should have been much too clever for you if luck had not been against me.
You owe your victory, not to skill, but to luck.'
'That is what the vanquished always say. Waterloo was a bit of pure luck for the English, no doubt, but it was Waterloo all the same.'
Jules yawned elaborately. 'What do you want to know?' he inquired, with politeness.
'First and foremost, I want to know the names of your accomplices inside this hotel.'
'I have no more,' said Jules. 'Rocco was the last.'
'Don't begin by lying to me. If you had no accomplice, how did you contrive that one particular bottle of Romanée-Conti should be served to his Highness Prince Eugen?'
'Then you discovered that in time, did you?' said Jules. 'I was afraid so.
Let me explain that that needed no accomplice. The bottle was topmost in the bin, and naturally it would be taken. Moreover, I left it sticking out a little further than the rest.'
'You did not arrange, then, that Hubbard should be taken ill the night before last?'
'I had no idea,' said Jules, 'that the excellent Hubbard was not enjoying his accustomed health.'
'Tell me,' said Racksole, 'who or what is the origin of your vendetta against the life of Prince Eugen?'
'I had no vendetta against the life of Prince Eugen,' said Jules, 'at least, not to begin with. I merely undertook, for a consideration, to see that Prince Eugen did not have an interview with a certain Mr Sampson Levi in London before a certain date, that was all. It seemed simple enough. I had been engaged in far more complicated transactions before. I was convinced that I could manage it, with the help of Rocco and Em - and Miss Spencer.'
'Is that woman your wife?'
'She would like to be,' he sneered. 'Please don't interrupt. I had completed my arrangements, when you so inconsiderately bought the hotel. I don't mind admitting now that from the very moment when you came across me that night in the corridor I was secretly afraid of you, though I scarcely admitted the fact even to myself then. I thought it safer to shift the scene of our operations to Ostend. I had meant to deal with Prince Eugen in this hotel, but I decided, then, to intercept him on the Continent, and I despatched Miss Spencer with some instructions. Troubles never come singly, and it happened that just then that fool Dimmock, who had been in the swim with us, chose to prove refractory. The slightest hitch would have upset everything, and I was obliged to - to clear him off the scene. He wanted to back out - he had a bad attack of conscience, and violent measures were essential. I regret his untimely decease, but he brought it on himself. Well, everything was going serenely when you and your brilliant daughter, apparently determined to meddle, turned up again among us at Ostend. Only twenty-four hours, however, had to elapse before the date which had been mentioned to me by my employers. I kept poor little Eugen for the allotted time, and then you managed to get hold of him. I do not deny that you scored there, though, according to my original instructions, you scored too late. The time had passed, and so, so far as I knew, it didn't matter a pin whether Prince Eugen saw Mr Sampson Levi or not. But my employers were still uneasy. They were uneasy even after little Eugen had lain ill in Ostend for several weeks. It appears that they feared that even at that date an interview between Prince Eugen and Mr Sampson Levi might work harm to them. So they applied to me again. This time they wanted Prince Eugen to be - em - finished off entirely. They offered high terms.'
'I had received fifty thousand pounds for the first job, of which Rocco had half. Rocco was also to be made a member of a certain famous European order, if things went right. That was what he coveted far more than the money - the vain fellow! For the second
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