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- The Grand Babylon Hotel - 5/45 -


dominions? You may say that the sun does set on his empire?'

'It does,' said Dimmock.

'Unless the weather is cloudy,' Nella put in. 'Is the Grand Duke content always to stay at home?'

'On the contrary, he is a great traveller, much more so than Prince Aribert.

I may tell you, what no one knows at present, outside this hotel, that his Royal Highness the Grand Duke, with a small suite, will be here to-morrow.'

'In London?' asked Nella.

'Yes.'

'In this hotel?'

'Yes.'

'Oh! How lovely!'

'That is why your humble servant is here to-night - a sort of advance guard.'

'But I understood,' Racksole said, 'that you were - er - attached to Prince Aribert, the uncle.'

'I am. Prince Aribert will also be here. The Grand Duke and the Prince have business about important investments connected with the Grand Duke's marriage settlement. . . . In the highest quarters, you understand.'

'For so discreet a person,' thought Racksole, 'you are fairly communicative.' Then he said aloud: 'Shall we go out on the terrace?'

As they crossed the dining-room Jules stopped Mr Dimmock and handed him a letter. 'Just come, sir, by messenger,' said Jules.

Nella dropped behind for a second with her father. 'Leave me alone with this boy a little - there's a dear parent,' she whispered in his ear.

'I am a mere cypher, an obedient nobody,' Racksole replied, pinching her arm surreptitiously. 'Treat me as such. Use me as you like. I will go and look after my hoteL' And soon afterwards he disappeared.

Nella and Mr Dimmock sat together on the terrace, sipping iced drinks. They made a handsome couple, bowered amid plants which blossomed at the command of a Chelsea wholesale florist. People who passed by remarked privately that from the look of things there was the beginning of a romance m that conversation. Perhaps there was, but a more intimate acquaintance with the character of Nella Racksole would have been necessary in order to predict what precise form that romance would take.

Jules himself served the liquids, and at ten o'clock he brought another note. Entreating a thousand pardons, Reginald Dimmock, after he had glanced at the note, excused himself on the plea of urgent business for his Serene master, uncle of the Grand Duke of Posen. He asked if he might fetch Mr Racksole, or escort Miss Racksole to her father. But Miss Racksole said gaily that she felt no need of an escort, and should go to bed. She added that her father and herself always endeavoured to be independent of each other.

Just then Theodore Racksole had found his way once more into Mr Babylon's private room. Before arriving there, however, he had discovered that in some mysterious manner the news of the change of proprietorship had worked its way down to the lowest strata of the hotel's cosmos. The corridors hummed with it, and even under-servants were to be seen discussing the thing, just as though it mattered to them.

'Have a cigar, Mr Racksole,' said the urbane Mr Babylon, 'and a mouthful of the oldest cognac in all Europe.'

In a few minutes these two were talking eagerly, rapidly. Felix Babylon was astonished at Racksole's capacity for absorbing the details of hotel management. And as for Racksole he soon realized that Felix Babylon must be a prince of hotel managers. It had never occurred to Racksole before that to manage an hotel, even a large hotel, could be a specially interesting affair, or that it could make any excessive demands upon the brains of the manager; but he came to see that he had underrated the possibilities of an hotel. The business of the Grand Babylon was enormous. It took Racksole, with all his genius for organization, exactly half an hour to master the details of the hotel laundry-work. And the laundry-work was but one branch of activity amid scores, and not a very large one at that. The machinery of checking supplies, and of establishing a mean ratio between the raw stuff received in the kitchen and the number of meals served in the salle manger and the private rooms, was very complicated and delicate. When Racksole had grasped it, he at once suggested some improvements, and this led to a long theoretical discussion, and the discussion led to digressions, and then Felix Babylon, in a moment of absent-mindedness, yawned.

Racksole looked at the gilt clock on the high mantelpiece.

'Great Scott!' he said. 'It's three o'clock. Mr Babylon, accept my apologies for having kept you up to such an absurd hour.'

'I have not spent so pleasant an evening for many years. You have let me ride my hobby to my heart's content. It is I who should apologize.'

Racksole rose.

'I should like to ask you one question,' said Babylon. 'Have you ever had anything to do with hotels before?'

'Never,' said Racksole.

'Then you have missed your vocation. You could have been the greatest of all hotel-managers. You would have been greater than me, and I am unequalled, though I keep only one hotel, and some men have half a dozen. Mr Racksole, why have you never run an hotel?'

'Heaven knows,' he laughed, 'but you flatter me, Mr Babylon.'

'I? Flatter? You do not know me. I flatter no one, except, perhaps, now and then an exceptionally distinguished guest. In which case I give suitable instructions as to the bill.'

'Speaking of distinguished guests, I am told that a couple of German princes are coming here to-morrow.'

'That is so.'

'Does one do anything? Does one receive them formally - stand bowing in the entrance-hall, or anything of that sort?'

'Not necessarily. Not unless one wishes. The modern hotel proprietor is not like an innkeeper of the Middle Ages, and even princes do not expect to see him unless something should happen to go wrong. As a matter of fact, though the Grand Duke of Posen and Prince Aribert have both honoured me by staying here before, I have never even set eyes on them. You will find all arrangements have been made.'

They talked a little longer, and then Racksole said good night. 'Let me see you to your room. The lifts will be closed and the place will be deserted.

As for myself, I sleep here,' and Mr Babylon pointed to an inner door.

'No, thanks,' said Racksole; 'let me explore my own hotel unaccompanied. I believe I can discover my room.' When he got fairly into the passages, Racksole was not so sure that he could discover his own room. The number was 107, but he had forgotten whether it was on the first or second floor.

Travelling in a lift, one is unconscious of floors. He passed several lift-doorways, but he could see no glint of a staircase; in all self-respecting hotels staircases have gone out of fashion, and though hotel architects still continue, for old sakes' sake, to build staircases, they are tucked away in remote corners where their presence is not likely to offend the eye of a spoiled and cosmopolitan public. The hotel seemed vast, uncanny, deserted. An electric light glowed here and there at long intervals. On the thick carpets, Racksole's thinly-shod feet made no sound, and he wandered at ease to and fro, rather amused, rather struck by the peculiar senses of night and mystery which had suddenly come over him. He fancied he could hear a thousand snores peacefully descending from the upper realms. At length he found a staircase, a very dark and narrow one, and presently he was on the first floor. He soon discovered that the numbers of the rooms on this floor did not get beyond seventy. He encountered another staircase and ascended to the second floor. By the decoration of the walls he recognized this floor as his proper home, and as he strolled through the long corridor he whistled a low, meditative whistle of satisfaction. He thought he heard a step in the transverse corridor, and instinctively he obliterated himself in a recess which held a service-cabinet and a chair. He did hear a step. Peeping cautiously out, he perceived, what he had not perceived previously, that a piece of white ribbon had been tied round the handle of the door of one of the bedrooms. Then a man came round the corner of the transverse corridor, and Racksole drew back. It was Jules - Jules with his hands in his pockets and a slouch hat over his eyes, but in other respects attired as usual.

Racksole, at that instant, remembered with a special vividness what Felix Babylon had said to him at their first interview. He wished he had brought his revolver. He didn't know why he should feel the desirability of a revolver in a London hotel of the most unimpeachable fair fame, but he did feel the desirability of such an instrument of attack and defence. He privately decided that if Jules went past his recess he would take him by the throat and in that attitude put a few plain questions to this highly dubious waiter. But Jules had stopped. The millionaire made another cautious observation. Jules, with infinite gentleness, was turning the handle of the door to which the white ribbon was attached. The door slowly yielded and Jules disappeared within the room. After a brief


The Grand Babylon Hotel - 5/45

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