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- The Grand Babylon Hotel - 6/45 -


interval, the night-prowling Jules reappeared, closed the door as softly as he had opened it, removed the ribbon, returned upon his steps, and vanished down the transverse corridor.

'This is quaint,' said Racksole; 'quaint to a degree!'

It occurred to him to look at the number of the room, and he stole towards it.

'Well, I'm d - d!' he murmured wonderingly.

The number was 111, his daughter's room! He tried to open it, but the door was locked. Rushing to his own room, No. 107, he seized one of a pair of revolvers (the kind that are made for millionaires) and followed after Jules down the transverse corridor. At the end of this corridor was a window; the window was open; and Jules was innocently gazing out of the window. Ten silent strides, and Theodore Racksole was upon him.

'One word, my friend,' the millionaire began, carelessly waving the revolver in the air. Jules was indubitably startled, but by an admirable exercise of self-control he recovered possession of his faculties in a second.

'Sir?' said Jules.

'I just want to be informed, what the deuce you were doing in No. 111 a moment ago.'

'I had been requested to go there,' was the calm response.

'You are a liar, and not a very clever one. That is my daughter's room. Now - out with it, before I decide whether to shoot you or throw you into the street.'

'Excuse me, sir, No. 111 is occupied by a gentleman.'

'I advise you that it is a serious error of judgement to contradict me, my friend. Don't do it again. We will go to the room together, and you shall prove that the occupant is a gentleman, and not my daughter.'

'Impossible, sir,' said Jules.

'Scarcely that,' said Racksole, and he took Jules by the sleeve. The millionaire knew for a certainty that Nella occupied No. 111, for he had examined the room her, and himself seen that her trunks and her maid and herself had arrived there in safety. 'Now open the door,' whispered Racksole, when they reached No.111.

'I must knock.'

'That is just what you mustn't do. Open it. No doubt you have your pass-key.'

Confronted by the revolver, Jules readily obeyed, yet with a deprecatory gesture, as though he would not be responsible for this outrage against the decorum of hotel life. Racksole entered. The room was brilliantly lighted.

'A visitor, who insists on seeing you, sir,' said Jules, and fled.

Mr Reginald Dimmock, still in evening dress, and smoking a cigarette, rose hurriedly from a table.

'Hello, my dear Mr Racksole, this is an unexpected - ah - pleasure.'

'Where is my daughter? This is her room.'

'Did I catch what you said, Mr Racksole?'

'I venture to remark that this is Miss Racksole's room.'

'My good sir,' answered Dimmock, 'you must be mad to dream of such a thing.

Only my respect for your daughter prevents me from expelling you forcibly, for such an extraordinary suggestion.'

A small spot half-way down the bridge of the millionaire's nose turned suddenly white.

'With your permission,' he said in a low calm voice, 'I will examine the dressing-room and the bath-room.'

'Just listen to me a moment,' Dimmock urged, in a milder tone.

'I'll listen to you afterwards, my young friend,' said Racksole, and he proceeded to search the bath-room, and the dressing-room, without any result whatever. 'Lest my attitude might be open to misconstruction, Mr Dimmock, I may as well tell you that I have the most perfect confidence in my daughter, who is as well able to take care of herself as any woman I ever met, but since you entered it there have been one or two rather mysterious occurrences in this hotel. That is all.' Feeling a draught of air on his shoulder, Racksole turned to the window. 'For instance,' he added, 'I perceive that this window is broken, badly broken, and from the outside.

Now, how could that have occurred?'

'If you will kindly hear reason, Mr Racksole,' said Dimmock in his best diplomatic manner, 'I will endeavour to explain things to you. I regarded your first question to me when you entered my room as being offensively put, but I now see that you had some justification.' He smiled politely. 'I was passing along this corridor about eleven o'clock, when I found Miss Racksole in a difficulty with the hotel servants. Miss Racksole was retiring to rest in this room when a large stone, which must have been thrown from the Embankment, broke the window, as you see. Apart from the discomfort of the broken window, she did not care to remain in the room. She argued that where one stone had come another might follow. She therefore insisted on her room being changed. The servants said that there was no other room available with a dressing-room and bath-room attached, and your daughter made a point of these matters. I at once offered to exchange apartments with her. She did me the honour to accept my offer. Our respective belongings were moved - and that is all. Miss Racksole is at this moment, I trust, asleep in No. 124.'

Theodore Racksole looked at the young man for a few seconds in silence.

There was a faint knock at the door.

'Come in,' said Racksole loudly.

Someone pushed open the door, but remained standing on the mat. It was Nella's maid, in a dressing-gown.

'Miss Racksole's compliments, and a thousand excuses, but a book of hers was left on the mantelshelf in this room. She cannot sleep, and wishes to read.'

'Mr Dimmock, I tender my apologies - my formal apologies,' said Racksole, when the girl had gone away with the book. 'Good night.'

'Pray don't mention it,' said Dimmock suavely - and bowed him out.

Chapter Four ENTRANCE OF THE PRINCE

NEVERTHELESS, sundry small things weighed on Racksole's mind. First there was Jules' wink. Then there was the ribbon on the door-handle and Jules'

visit to No. 111, and the broken window - broken from the outside. Racksole did not forget that the time was 3 a.m. He slept but little that night, but he was glad that he had bought the Grand Babylon Hotel. It was an acquisition which seemed to promise fun and diversion.

The next morning he came across Mr Babylon early. 'I have emptied my private room of all personal papers,' said Babylon, 'and it is now at your disposal.

I purpose, if agreeable to yourself, to stay on in the hotel as a guest for the present. We have much to settle with regard to the completion of the purchase, and also there are things which you might want to ask me. Also, to tell the truth, I am not anxious to leave the old place with too much suddenness. It will be a wrench to me.'

'I shall be delighted if you will stay,' said the millionaire, 'but it must be as my guest, not as the guest of the hotel.'

'You are very kind.'

'As for wishing to consult you, no doubt I shall have need to do so, but I must say that the show seems to run itself.'

'Ah!' said Babylon thoughtfully. 'I have heard of hotels that run themselves. If they do, you may be sure that they obey the laws of gravity and run downwards. You will have your hands full. For example, have you yet heard about Miss Spencer?'

'No,' said Racksole. 'What of her?'

'She has mysteriously vanished during the night, and nobody appears to be able to throw any light on the affair. Her room is empty, her boxes gone.

You will want someone to take her place, and that someone will not be very easy to get.'

'H'm!' Racksole said, after a pause. 'Hers is not the only post that falls vacant to-day.'

A little later, the millionaire installed himself in the late owner's private room and rang the bell.

'I want Jules,' he said to the page.

While waiting for Jules, Racksole considered the question of Miss Spencer's disappearance.

'Good morning, Jules,' was his cheerful greeting, when the imperturbable waiter arrived.

'Good morning, sir.'


The Grand Babylon Hotel - 6/45

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