Part 4 out of 5
anxious for him to make a good influential marriage.'
'Well, let him.'
'He is going to. He is going to marry the Princess Anna.'
'Not while I live. He made overtures there a year ago, and was
'Yes; but he will make overtures again, and this time he will not be
rebuffed. Oh, Eugen! can't you see that this plot against you is
being engineered by some persons who know all about your
affairs, and whose desire is to prevent your marriage with Princess
Anna? Only one man in Europe can have any motive for wishing
to prevent your marriage with Princess Anna, and that is the man
who means to marry her himself.' Eugen went very pale.
'Then, Aribert, do you mean to oonvey to me that my detention in
Ostend was contrived by the agents of the King of Bosnia?'
'With a view to stopping my negotiations with Sampson Levi, and
so putting an end to the possibility of my marriage with Anna?'
'You are a good friend to me, Aribert. You mean well. But you are
You have been worrying about nothing.'
'Have you forgotten about Reginald Dimmock?'
'I remember you said that he had died.'
'I said nothing of the sort. I said that he had been assassinated. That
was part of it, my poor Eugen.'
'Pooh!' said Eugen. 'I don't believe he was assassinated. And as for
Sampson Levi, I will bet you a thousand marks that he and I come
to terms this morning, and that the million is in my hands before I
leave London.' Aribert shook his head.
'You seem to be pretty sure of Mr Levi's character. Have you had
much to do with him before?'
'Well,' Eugen hesitated a second, 'a little. What young man in my
position hasn't had something to do with Mr Sampson Levi at one
time or another?'
'I haven't,' said Aribert.
'You! You are a fossil.' He rang a silver bell. 'Hans! I will receive
Mr Sampson Levi.'
Whereupon Aribert discreetly departed, and Prince Eugen sat
down in the great velvet chair, and began to look at the papers
which Hans had previously placed upon the table.
'Good morning, your Royal Highness,' said Sampson Levi, bowing
as he entered. 'I trust your Royal Highness is well.'
'Moderately, thanks,' returned the Prince.
In spite of the fact that he had had as much to do with people of
Royal blood as any plain man in Europe, Sampson Levi had never
yet learned how to be at ease with these exalted individuals during
the first few minutes of an interview. Afterwards, he resumed
command of himself and his faculties, but at the beginning he was
invariably flustered, scarlet of face, and inclined to perspiration.
'We will proceed to business at once,' said Prince Eugen. 'Will you
take a seat, Mr Levi?'
'I thank your Royal Highness.'
'Now as to that loan which we had already practically arranged - a
million, I think it was,' said the Prince airily.
'A million,' Levi acquiesced, toying with his enormous watch
'Everything is now in order. Here are the papers and I should like
to finish the matter up at once.'
'Exactly, your Highness, but - '
'But what? You months ago expressed the warmest satisfaction at
the security, though I am quite prepared to admit that the security,
is of rather an unusual nature. You also agreed to the rate of
interest. It is not everyone, Mr Levi, who can lend out a million at
5-1/2 per cent. And in ten years the whole amount will be paid
back. I - er - I believe I informed you that the fortune of Princess
Anna, who is about to accept my hand, will ultimately amount to
something like fifty millions of marks, which is over two million
pounds in your English money.' Prince Eugen stopped. He had no
fancy for talking in this confidential manner to financiers, but he
felt that circumstances demanded it.
'You see, it's like this, your Royal Highness,' began Mr Sampson
Levi, in his homely English idiom. 'It's like this. I said I could keep
that bit of money available till the end of June, and you were to
give me an interview here before that date. Not having heard from
your Highness, and not knowing your Highness's address, though
my German agents made every inquiry, I concluded, that you had
made other arrangements, money being so cheap this last few
'I was unfortunately detained at Ostend,' said Prince Eugen, with as
much haughtiness as he could assume, 'by - by important business.
I have made no other arangements, and I shall have need of the
million. If you will be so good as to pay it to my London bankers - '
'I'm very sorry,' said Mr Sampson Levi, with a tremendous and
dazzling air of politeness, which surprised even himself, 'but my
syndicate has now lent the money elsewhere. It's in South America
- I don't mind telling your Highness that we've lent it to the Chilean
'Hang the Chilean Government, Mr Levi,' exclaimed the Prince,
and he went white. 'I must have that million. It was an
'It was an arrangement, I admit,' said Mr Sampson Levi, 'but your
Highness broke the arrangement.'
There was a long silence.
'Do you mean to say,' began the Prince with tense calmness, 'that
you are not in a position to let me have that million?'
'I could let your Highness have a million in a couple of years' time.'
The Prince made a gesture of annoyance. 'Mr Levi,' he said, 'if you
do not place the money in my hands to-morrow you will ruin one
of the oldest of reigning families, and, incidentally, you will alter
the map of Europe. You are not keeping faith, and I had relied on
'Pardon me, your Highness,' said little Levi, rising in resentment, 'it
is not I who have not kept faith. I beg to repeat that the money is
no longer at my disposal, and to bid your Highness good morning.'
And Mr Sampson Levi left the audience chamber with an
awkward, aggrieved bow. It was a scene characteristic of the end
of the nineteenth century - an overfed, commonplace, pursy little
man who had been born in a Brixton semi-detached villa, and
whose highest idea of pleasure was a Sunday up the river in an
expensive electric launch, confronting and utterly routing, in a
hotel belonging to an American millionaire, the representative of a
race of men who had fingered every page of European history for
centuries, and who still, in their native castles, were surrounded
with every outward circumstance of pomp and power.
'Aribert,' said Prince Eugen, a little later, 'you were right. It is all
over. I have only one refuge - '
'You don't mean - ' Aribert stopped, dumbfounded.
'Yes, I do,' he said quickly. 'I can manage it so that it will look like
Chapter Twenty-One THE RETURN OF F�LIX BABYLON
ON the evening of Prince Eugen's fateful interview with Mr
Sampson Levi, Theodore Racksole was wandering somewhat
aimlessly and uneasily about the entrance hail and adjacent
corridors of the Grand Babylon. He had returned from Ostend only
a day or two previously, and had endeavoured with all his might to
forget the affair which had carried him there - to regard it, in fact,
as done with. But he found himself unable to do so. In vain he
remarked, under his breath, that there were some things which
were best left alone: if his experience as a manipulator of markets,
a contriver of gigantic schemes in New York, had taught him
anything at all, it should surely have taught him that. Yet he could
not feel reconciled to such a position. The mere presence of the
princes in his hotel roused the fighting instincts of this man, who
had never in his whole career been beaten. He had, as it were,
taken up arms on their side, and if the princes of Posen would not
continue their own battle, nevertheless he, Theodore Racksole,
wanted to continue it for them. To a certain extent, of course, the
battle had been won, for Prince Eugen had been rescued from an
extremely difficult and dangerous position, and the enemy -
consisting of Jules, Rocco, Miss Spencer, and perhaps others - had
been put to flight. But that, he conceived, was not enough; it was
very far from being enough. That the criminals, for criminals they
decidedly were, should still be at large, he regarded as an absurd
anomaly. And there was another point: he had said nothing to the
police of all that had occurred. He disdained the police, but he
could scarcely fail to perceive that if the police should by accident
gain a clue to the real state of the case he might be placed rather
awkwardly, for the simple reason that in the eyes of the law it
amounted to a misdemeanour to conceal as much as he had
concealed. He asked himself, for the thousandth time, why he had
adopted a policy of concealment from the police, why he had
become in any way interested in the Posen matter, and why, at this
present moment, he should be so anxious to prosecute it further?
To the first two questions he replied, rather lamely, that he had
been influenced by Nella, and also by a natural spirit of adventure;
to the third he replied that he had always been in the habit of
carrying things through, and was now actuated by a mere childish,
obstinate desire to carry this one through. Moreover, he was
spendidly conscious of his perfect ability to carry it through. One
additional impulse he had, though he did not admit it to himself,
being by nature adverse to big words, and that was an abstract love
of justice, the Anglo-Saxon's deep-found instinct for helping the
right side to conquer, even when grave risks must thereby be run,
with no corresponding advantage.
He was turning these things over in his mind as he walked about
the vast hotel on that evening of the last day in July. The Society
papers had been stating for a week past that London was empty,
but, in spite of the Society papers, London persisted in seeming to
be just as full as ever. The Grand Babylon was certainly not as
crowded as it had been a month earlier, but it was doing a very
passable business. At the close of the season the gay butterflies of
the social community have a habit of hovering for a day or two in
the big hotels before they flutter away to castle and country-house,
meadow and moor, lake and stream. The great basket-chairs in the
portico were well filled by old and middle-aged gentlemen
engaged in enjoying the varied delights of liqueurs, cigars, and the
full moon which floated so serenely above the Thames. Here and
there a pretty woman on the arm of a cavalier in immaculate attire
swept her train as she turned to and fro in the promenade of the
terrace. Waiters and uniformed commissionaires and gold-braided
doorkeepers moved noiselessly about; at short intervals the chief
of the doorkeepers blew his shrill whistle and hansoms drove up
with tinkling bell to take away a pair of butterflies to some place
of amusement or boredom; occasionally a private carriage drawn
by expensive and self-conscious horses put the hansoms to shame
by its mere outward glory. It was a hot night, a night for the
summer woods, and save for the vehicles there was no rapid
movement of any kind. It seemed as though the world - the world,
that is to say, of the Grand Babylon - was fully engaged in the
solemn processes of digestion and small-talk. Even the long row of
the Embankment gas-lamps, stretching right and left, scarcely
trembled in the still, warm, caressing air. The stars overhead
looked down with many blinkings upon the enormous pile of the
Grand Babylon, and the moon regarded it with bland and
changeless face; what they thought of it and its inhabitants cannot,
unfortunately, be recorded. What Theodore Racksole thought of
the moon can be recorded: he thought it was a nuisance. It
somehow fascinated his gaze with its silly stare, and so interfered
with his complex meditations. He glanced round at the
well-dressed and satisfied people - his guests, his customers. They
appeared to ignore him absolutely.
Probably only a very small percentage of them had the least idea
that this tall spare man, with the iron-grey hair and the thin, firm,
resolute face, who wore his American-cut evening clothes with
such careless ease, was the sole proprietor of the Grand Babylon,
and possibly the richest man in Europe. As has already been stated,
Racksole was not a celebrity in England.
The guests of the Grand Babylon saw merely a restless male
person, whose restlessness was rather a disturber of their quietude,
but with whom, to judge by his countenance, it would be
inadvisable to remonstrate. Therefore Theodore Racksole
continued his perambulations unchallenged, and kept saying to
himself, 'I must do something.' But what? He could think of no
course to pursue.
At last he walked straight through the hotel and out at the other
entrance, and so up the little unassuming side street into the
roaring torrent of the narrow and crowded Strand. He jumped on a
Putney bus, and paid his fair to Putney, fivepence, and then,
finding that the humble occupants of the vehicle stared at the
spectacle of a man in evening dress but without a dustcoat, he
jumped off again, oblivious of the fact that the conductor jerked a
thumb towards him and winked at the passengers as who should
say, 'There goes a lunatic.' He went into a tobacconist's shop and
asked for a cigar. The shopman mildly inquired what price.
'What are the best you've got?' asked Theodore Racksole.
'Five shillings each, sir,' said the man promptly.
'Give me a penny one,' was Theodore Racksole's laconic request,
and he walked out of the shop smoking the penny cigar. It was a
new sensation for him.
He was inhaling the aromatic odours of Eug�ne Rimmel's
establishment for the sale of scents when a gentleman, walking
slowly in the opposite direction, accosted him with a quiet, 'Good
evening, Mr Racksole.' The millionaire did not at first recognize
his interlocutor, who wore a travelling overcoat, and was carrying
a handbag. Then a slight, pleased smile passed over his features,
and he held out his hand.
'Well, Mr Babylon,' he greeted the other, 'of all persons in the wide
world you are the man I would most have wished to meet.'
'You flatter me,' said the little Anglicized Swiss.
'No, I don't,' answered Racksole; 'it isn't my custom, any more than
it's yours. I wanted to have a real good long yarn with you, and lo!
here you are! Where have you sprung from?'
'From Lausanne,' said Felix Babylon. 'I had finished my duties
there, I had nothing else to do, and I felt homesick. I felt the
nostalgia of London, and so I came over, just as you see,' and he
raised the handbag for Racksole's notice. 'One toothbrush, one
razor, two slippers, ehl' He laughed. 'I was wondering as I walked
along where I should stay - me, Felix Babylon, homeless in
'I should advise you to stay at the Grand Babylon,' Racksole
'It is a good hotel, and I know the proprietor personally.'
'Rather expensive, is it not?' said Babylon.
'To you, sir,' answered Racksole, 'the inclusive terms will be
exactly half a crown a week. Do you accept?'
'I accept,' said Babylon, and added, 'You are very good, Mr
They strolled together back to the hotel, saying nothing in
particular, but feeling very content with each other's company.
'Many customers?' asked Felix Babylon.
'Very tolerable,' said Racksole, assuming as much of the air of the
professional hotel proprietor as he could. 'I think I may say in the
storekeeper's phrase, that if there is any business about I am doing
To-night the people are all on the terrace in the portico - it's so
confoundedly hot - and the consumption of ice is simply enormous
- nearly as large as it would be in New York.'
'In that case,' said Babylon politely, 'let me offer you another cigar.'
'But I have not finished this one.'
'That is just why I wish to offer you another one. A cigar such as
yours, my good friend, ought never to be smoked within the
precincts of the Grand Babylon, not even by the proprietor of the
Grand Babylon, and especially when all the guests are assembled
in the portico. The fumes of it would ruin any hotel.'
Theodore Racksole laughingly lighted the Rothschild Havana
which Babylon gave him, and they entered the hotel arm in arm.
But no sooner had they mounted the steps than little Felix became
the object of numberless greetings. It appeared that he had been
highly popular among his quondam guests. At last they reached the
managerial room, where Babylon was regaled on a chicken, and
Racksole assisted him in the consumption of a bottle of Heidsieck
Monopole, Carte d'Or.
'This chicken is almost perfectly grilled,' said Babylon at length. 'It
is a credit to the house. But why, my dear Racksole, why in the
name of Heaven did you quarrel with Rocco?'
'Then you have heard?'
'Heard! My dear friend, it was in every newspaper on the
Continent. Some journals prophesied that the Grand Babylon
would have to close its doors within half a year now that Rocco
had deserted it. But of course I knew better. I knew that you must
have a good reason for allowing Rocco to depart, and that you
must have made arrangements in advance for a substitute.'
'As a matter of fact, I had not made arrangements in advance,' said
Theodore Racksole, a little ruefully; 'but happily we have found in
our second sous-chef an artist inferior only to Rocco himself. That,
however, was mere good fortune.'
'Surely,' said Babylon, 'it was indiscreet to trust to mere good
fortune in such a serious matter?'
'I didn't trust to mere good fortune. I didn't trust to anything except
Rocco, and he deceived me.'
'But why did you quarrel with him?'
'I didn't quarrel with him. I found him embalming a corpse in the
State bedroom one night - '
'You what?' Babylon almost screamed.
'I found him embalming a corpse in the State bedroom,' repeated
Racksole in his quietest tones.
The two men gazed at each other, and then Racksole replenished
'Tell me,' said Babylon, settling himself deep in an easy chair and
lighting a cigar.
And Racksole thereupon recounted to him the whole of the Posen
episode, with every circumstantial detail so far as he knew it. It
was a long and complicated recital, and occupied about an hour.
During that time little Felix never spoke a word, scarcely moved a
muscle; only his small eyes gazed through the bluish haze of
smoke. The clock on the mantelpiece tinkled midnight.
'Time for whisky and soda,' said Racksole, and got up as if to ring
the bell; but Babylon waved him back.
'You have told me that this Sampson Levi had an audience of
Prince Eugen to-day, but you have not told me the result of that
audience,' said Babylon.
'Because I do not yet know it. But I shall doubtless know
to-morrow. In the meantime, I feel fairly sure that Levi declined to
produce Prince Eugen's required million. I have reason to believe
that the money was lent elsewhere.'
'H'm!' mused Babylon; and then, carelessly, 'I am not at all
surprised at that arrangement for spying through the bathroom of
the State apartments.'
'Why are you not surprised?'
'Oh!' said Babylon, 'it is such an obvious dodge - so easy to carry
out. As for me, I took special care never to involve myself in these
affairs. I knew they existed; I somehow felt that they existed. But I
also felt that they lay outside my sphere. My business was to
provide board and lodging of the most sumptuous kind to those
who didn't mind paying for it; and I did my business. If anything
else went on in the hotel, under the rose, I long determined to
ignore it unless it should happen to be brought before my notice;
and it never was brought before my notice. However, I admit that
there is a certain pleasurable excitement in this kind of affair and
doubtless you have experienced that.'
'I have,' said Racksole simply, 'though I believe you are laughing at
'By no means,' Babylon replied. 'Now what, if I may ask the
question, is going to be your next step?'
'That is just what I desire to know myself,' said Theodore
'Well,' said Babylon, after a pause, 'let us begin. In the first place, it
is possible you may be interested to hear that I happened to see
'You did!' Racksole remarked with much calmness. 'Where?'
'Well, it was early this morning, in Paris, just before I left there.
The meeting was quite accidental, and Jules seemed rather
surprised at meeting me. He respectfully inquired where I was
going, and I said that I was going to Switzerland. At that moment I
thought I was going to Switzerland. It had occurred to me that after
all I should be happier there, and that I had better turn back and
not see London any more. However, I changed my mind once
again, and decided to come on to London, and accept the risks of
being miserable there without my hotel. Then I asked Jules
whither he was bound, and he told me that he was off to
Constantinople, being interested in a new French hotel there. I
wished him good luck, and we parted.'
'Constantinople, eh!' said Racksole. 'A highly suitable place for
him, I should say.'
'But,' Babylon resumed, 'I caught sight of him again.'
'At Charing Cross, a few minutes before I had the pleasure of
Mr Jules had not gone to Constantinople after all. He did not see
me, or I should have suggested to him that in going from Paris to
Constantinople it is not usual to travel via London.'
'The cheek of the fellow!' exclaimed Theodore Racksole. 'The
gorgeous and colossal cheek of the fellow!'
Chapter Twenty-Two IN THE WINE CELLARS OF THE GRAND
'DO you know anything of the antecedents of this Jules,' asked
Theodore Racksole, helping himself to whisky.
'Nothing whatever,' said Babylon. 'Until you told me, I don't think I
was aware that his true name was Thomas Jackson, though of
course I knew that it was not Jules. I certainly was not aware that
Miss Spencer was his wife, but I had long suspected that their
relations were somewhat more intimate than the nature of their
respective duties in the hotel absolutely demanded. All that I do
know of Jules - he will always be called Jules - is that he
gradually, by some mysterious personal force, acquired a
prominent position in the hotel. Decidedly he was the cleverest
and most intellectual waiter I have ever known, and he was
specially skilled in the difficult task of retaining his own dignity
while not interfering with that of other people.
I'm afraid this information is a little too vague to be of any
practical assistance in the present difficulty.'
'What is the present difficulty?' Racksole queried, with a simple
'I should imagine that the present difficulty is to account for the
man's presence in London.'
'That is easily accounted for,' said Racksole.
'How? Do you suppose he is anxious to give himself up to justice,
or that the chains of habit bind him to the hotel?'
'Neither,' said Racksole. 'Jules is going to have another try - that's
'Another try at what?'
'At Prince Eugen. Either at his life or his liberty. Most probably the
former this time; almost certainly the former. He has guessed that
we are somewhat handicapped by our anxiety to keep Prince
Eugen's predicament quite quiet, and he is taking advantage, of
that fact. As he already is fairly rich, on his own admission, the
reward which has been offered to him must be enormous, and he is
absolutely determined to get it. He has several times recently
proved himself to be a daring fellow; unless I am mistaken he will
shortly prove himself to be still more daring.'
'But what can he do? Surely you don't suggest that he will attempt
the life of Prince Eugen in this hotel?'
'Why not? If Reginald Dimmock fell on mere suspicion that he
would turn out unfaithful to the conspiracy, why not Prince
'But it would be an unspeakable crime, and do infinite harm to the
'True!' Racksole admitted, smiling. Little Felix Babylon seemed to
brace himself for the grasping of his monstrous idea.
'How could it possibly be done?' he asked at length.
'Dimmock was poisoned.'
'Yes, but you had Rocco here then, and Rocco was in the plot. It is
conceivable that Rocco could have managed it - barely
conceivable. But without Rocco I cannot think it possible. I cannot
even think that Jules would attempt it. You see, in a place like the
Grand Babylon, as probably I needn't point out to you, food has to
pass through so many hands that to poison one person without
killing perhaps fifty would be a most delicate operation. Moreover,
Prince Eugen, unless he has changed his habits, is always served
by his own attendant, old Hans, and therefore any attempt to
tamper with a cooked dish immediately before serving would be
hazardous in the extreme.'
'Granted,' said Racksole. 'The wine, however, might be more easily
Had you thought of that?'
'I had not,' Babylon admitted. 'You are an ingenious theorist, but I
happen to know that Prince Eugen always has his wine opened in
his own presence. No doubt it would be opened by Hans.
Therefore the wine theory is not tenable, my friend.'
'I do not see why,' said Racksole. 'I know nothing of wine as an
expert, and I very seldom drink it, but it seems to me that a bottle
of wine might be tampered with while it was still in the cellar,
especially if there was an accomplice in the hotel.'
'You think, then, that you are not yet rid of all your conspirators?'
'I think that Jules might still have an accomplice within the
'And that a bottle of wine could be opened and recorked without
leaving any trace of the operation?' Babylon was a trifle sarcastic.
'I don't see the necessity of opening the bottle in order to poison
the wine,' said Racksole. 'I have never tried to poison anybody by
means of a bottle of wine, and I don't lay claim to any natural
talent as a poisoner, but I think I could devise several ways of
managing the trick. Of course, I admit I may be entirely mistaken
as to Jules' intentions.'
'Ah!' said Felix Babylon. 'The wine cellars beneath us are one of
the wonders of London. I hope you are aware, Mr Racksole, that
when you bought the Grand Babylon you bought what is probably
the finest stock of wines in England, if not in Europe. In the
valuation I reckoned them at sixty thousand pounds. And I may say
that I always took care that the cellars were properly guarded.
Even Jules would experience a serious difficulty in breaking into
the cellars without the connivance of the wine-clerk, and the
wine-clerk is, or was, incorruptible.'
'I am ashamed to say that I have not yet inspected my wines,'
smiled Racksole; 'I have never given them a thought. Once or
twice I have taken the trouble to make a tour of the hotel, but I
omitted the cellars in my excursions.'
'Impossible, my dear fellow!' said Babylon, amused at such a
confession, to him - a great connoisseur and lover of fine wines -
almost incredible. 'But really you must see them to-morrow. If I
may, I will accompany you.'
'Why not to-night?' Racksole suggested, calmly.
'To-night! It is very late: Hubbard will have gone to bed.'
'And may I ask who is Hubbard? I remember the name but dimly.'
'Hubbard is the wine-clerk of the Grand Babylon,' said Felix , with
a certain emphasis. 'A sedate man of forty. He has the keys of the
cellars. He knows every bottle of every bin, its date, its qualities,
its value. And he's a teetotaler. Hubbard is a curiosity. No wine can
leave the cellars without his knowledge, and no person can enter
the cellars without his knowledge. At least, that is how it was in
my time,' Babylon added.
'We will wake him,' said Racksole.
'But it is one o'clock in the morning,' Babylon protested.
'Never mind - that is, if you consent to accompany me. A cellar is
the same by night as by day. Therefore, why not now?'
Babylon shrugged his shoulders. 'As you wish,' he agreed, with his
'And now to find this Mr Hubbard, with his key of the cupboard,'
said Racksole, as they walked out of the room together. Although
the hour was so late, the hotel was not, of course, closed for the
night. A few guests still remained about in the public rooms, and a
few fatigued waiters were still in attendance. One of these latter
was despatched in search of the singular Mr Hubbard, and it
fortunately turned out that this gentleman had not actually retired,
though he was on the point of doing so. He brought the keys to Mr
Racksole in person, and after he had had a little chat with his
former master, the proprietor and the ex-proprietor of the Grand
Babylon Hotel proceeded on their way to the cellars.
These cellars extend over, or rather under, quite half the
superficial areas of the whole hotel - the longitudinal half which
lies next to the Strand.
Owing to the fact that the ground slopes sharply from the Strand to
the river, the Grand Babylon is, so to speak, deeper near the Strand
than it is near the Thames. Towards the Thames there is, below the
entrance level, a basement and a sub-basement. Towards the
Strand there is basement, sub-basement, and the huge wine cellars
beneath all. After descending the four flights of the service stairs,
and traversing a long passage running parallel with the kitchen, the
two found themselves opposite a door, which, on being unlocked,
gave access to another flight of stairs. At the foot of this was the
main entrance to the cellars. Outside the entrance was the
wine-lift, for the ascension of delicious fluids to the upper floors,
and, opposite, Mr Hubbard's little office. There was electric light
Babylon, who, as being most accustomed to them, held the bunch
of keys, opened the great door, and then they were in the first
cellar - the first of a suite of five. Racksole was struck not only by
the icy coolness of the place, but also by its vastness. Babylon had
seized a portable electric handlight, attached to a long wire, which
lay handy, and, waving it about, disclosed the dimensions of the
place. By that flashing illumination the subterranean chamber
looked unutterably weird and mysterious, with its rows of
numbered bins, stretching away into the distance till the radiance
was reduced to the occasional far gleam of the light on the
shoulder of a bottle. Then Babylon switched on the fixed electric
lights, and Theodore Racksole entered upon a
personally-conducted tour of what was quite the most interesting
part of his own property.
To see the innocent enthusiasm of Felix Babylon for these stores
of exhilarating liquid was what is called in the North 'a sight for
He displayed to Racksole's bewildered gaze, in their due order, all
the wines of three continents - nay, of four, for the superb and
luscious Constantia wine of Cape Colony was not wanting in that
most catholic collection of vintages. Beginning with the
unsurpassed products of Burgundy, he continued with the clarets
of M�doc, Bordeaux, and Sauterne; then to the champagnes of Ay,
Hautvilliers, and Pierry; then to the hocks and moselles of
Germany, and the brilliant imitation champagnes of Main, Neckar,
and Naumburg; then to the famous and adorable Tokay of
Hungary, and all the Austrian varieties of French wines, including
Carlowitz and Somlauer; then to the dry sherries of Spain,
including purest Manzanilla, and Amontillado, and Vino de Pasto;
then to the wines of Malaga, both sweet and dry, and all the
'Spanish reds' from Catalonia, including the dark 'Tent' so often
used sacramentally; then to the renowned port of Oporto. Then he
proceeded to the Italian cellar, and descanted upon the excellence
of Barolo from Piedmont, of Chianti from Tuscany, of Orvieto
from the Roman States, of the 'Tears of Christ' from Naples, and
the commoner Marsala from Sicily. And so on, to an extent and
with a fullness of detail which cannot be rendered here.
At the end of the suite of cellars there was a glazed door, which, as
could be seen, gave access to a supplemental and smaller cellar, an
apartment about fifteen or sixteen feet square.
'Anything special in there?' asked Racksole curiously, as they stood
before the door, and looked within at the seined ends of bottles.
'Ah!' exclaimed Babylon, almost smacking his lips, 'therein lies the
cream of all.'
'The best champagne, I suppose?' said Racksole.
'Yes,' said Babylon, 'the best champagne is there - a very special
Sillery, as exquisite as you will find anywhere. But I see, my
friend, that you fall into the common error of putting champagne
first among wines. That distinction belongs to Burgundy. You have
old Burgundy in that cellar, Mr Racksole, which cost me - how
much do you think? - eighty pounds a bottle.
Probably it will never be drunk,' he added with a sigh. 'It is too
expensive even for princes and plutocrats.'
'Yes, it will,' said Racksole quickly. 'You and I will have a bottle
'Then,' continued Babylon, still riding his hobby-horse, 'there is a
sample of the Rhine wine dated 1706 which caused such a
sensation at the Vienna Exhibition of 1873. There is also a
singularly glorious Persian wine from Shiraz, the like of which I
have never seen elsewhere. Also there is an unrivalled vintage of
Roman�e-Conti, greatest of all modern Burgundies. If I remember
right Prince Eugen invariably has a bottle when he comes to stay
here. It is not on the hotel wine list, of course, and only a few
customers know of it. We do not precisely hawk it about the
'Indeed!' said Racksole. 'Let us go inside.'
They entered the stone apartment, rendered almost sacred by the
preciousness of its contents, and Racksole looked round with a
strangely intent and curious air. At the far side was a grating,
through which came a feeble light.
'What is that?' asked the millionaire sharply.
'That is merely a ventilation grating. Good ventilation is absolutely
'Looks broken, doesn't it?' Racksole suggested and then, putting a
finger quickly on Babylon's shoulder, 'there's someone in the
cellar. Can't you hear breathing, down there, behind that bin?'
The two men stood tense and silent for a while, listening, under
the ray of the single electric light in the ceiling. Half the cellar was
involved in gloom. At length Racksole walked firmly down the
central passage-way between the bins and turned to the corner at
'Come out, you villain!' he said in a low, well-nigh vicious tone,
and dragged up a cowering figure.
He had expected to find a man, but it was his own daughter, Nella
Racksole, upon whom he had laid angry hands.
Chapter Twenty-Three FURTHER EVENTS IN THE CELLAR
'WELL, Father,' Nella greeted her astounded parent. 'You should
make sure that you have got hold of the right person before you
use all that terrible muscular force of yours. I do believe you have
broken my shoulder bone.' She rubbed her shoulder with a comical
expression of pain, and then stood up before the two men. The
skirt of her dark grey dress was torn and dirty, and the usually trim
Nella looked as though she had been shot down a canvas
fire-escape. Mechanically she smoothed her frock, and gave a
straightening touch to her hair.
'Good evening, Miss Racksole,' said Felix Babylon, bowing
formally. 'This is an unexpected pleasure.' Felix 's drawing-room
manners never deserted him upon any occasion whatever.
'May I inquire what you are doing in my wine cellar, Nella
Racksole?' said the millionaire a little stiffly He was certainly
somewhat annoyed at having mistaken his daughter for a criminal;
moreover, he hated to be surprised, and upon this occasion he had
been surprised beyond any ordinary surprise; lastly, he was not at
all pleased that Nella should be observed in that strange
predicament by a stranger.
'I will tell you,' said Nella. 'I had been reading rather late in my
room - the night was so close. I heard Big Ben strike half-past
twelve, and then I put the book down, and went out on to the
balcony of my window for a little fresh air before going to bed. I
leaned over the balcony very quietly - you will remember that I am
on the third floor now - and looked down below into the little sunk
yard which separates the wall of the hotel from Salisbury Lane. I
was rather astonished to see a figure creeping across the yard. I
knew there was no entrance into the hotel from that yard, and
besides, it is fifteen or twenty feet below the level of the street. So
I watched. The figure went close up against the wall, and
disappeared from my view. I leaned over the balcony as far as I
dared, but I couldn't see him. I could hear him, however.'
'What could you hear?' questioned Racksole sharply.
'It sounded like a sawing noise,' said Nella; 'and it went on for
quite a long time - nearly a quarter of an hour, I should think - a
rasping sort of noise.'
'Why on earth didn't you come and warn me or someone else in the
'Oh, I don't know, Dad,' she replied sweetly. 'I had got interested in
it, and I thought I would see it out myself. Well, as I was saying,
she continued, addressing her remarks to Felix , with a dazzling
smile, 'that noise went on for quite a long time. At last it stopped,
and the figure reappeared from under the wall, crossed the yard,
climbed up the opposite wall by some means or other, and so over
the railings into Salisbury Lane. I felt rather relieved then, because
I knew he hadn't actually broken into the hotel. He walked down
Salisbury Lane very slowly. A policeman was just coming up.
"Goodnight, officer," I heard him say to the policeman, and he
asked him for a match. The policeman supplied the match, and the
other man lighted a cigarette, and proceeded further down the lane.
By cricking your neck from my window, Mr Babylon, you can get
a glimpse of the Embankment and the river. I saw the man cross
the Embankment, and lean over the river wall, where he seemed to
be talking to some one. He then walked along the Embankment to
Westminster and that was the last I saw of him. I waited a minute
or two for him to come back, but he didn't come back, and so I
thought it was about time I began to make inquiries into the affair.
I went downstairs instantly, and out of the hotel, through the
quadrangle, into Salisbury Lane, and I looked over those railings.
There was a ladder on the other side, by which it was perfectly
easy - once you had got over the railings - to climb down into the
yard. I was horribly afraid lest someone might walk up Salisbury
Lane and catch me in the act of negotiating those railings, but no
one did, and I surmounted them, with no worse damage than a torn
skirt. I crossed the yard on tiptoe, and I found that in the wall,
close to the ground and almost exactly under my window, there
was an iron grating, about one foot by fourteen inches. I suspected,
as there was no other ironwork near, that the mysterious visitor
must have been sawing at this grating for private purposes of his
own. I gave it a good shake, and I was not at all surprised that a
good part of it came off in my hand, leaving just enough room for
a person to creep through. I decided that I would creep through,
and now wish I hadn't. I don't know, Mr Babylon, whether you
have ever tried to creep through a small hole with a skirt on. Have
'I have not had that pleasure,' said little Felix , bowing again, and
absently taking up a bottle which lay to his hand.
'Well, you are fortunate,' the imperturbable Nella resumed. 'For
quite three minutes I thought I should perish in that grating, Dad,
with my shoulder inside and the rest of me outside. However, at
last, by the most amazing and agonizing efforts, I pulled myself
through and fell into this extraordinary cellar more dead than alive.
Then I wondered what I should do next. Should I wait for the
mysterious visitor to return, and stab him with my pocket scissors
if he tried to enter, or should I raise an alarm? First of all I
replaced the broken grating, then I struck a match, and I saw that I
had got landed in a wilderness of bottles. The match went out, and
I hadn't another one. So I sat down in the corner to think. I had just
decided to wait and see if the visitor returned, when I heard
footsteps, and then voices; and then you came in. I must say I was
rather taken aback, especially as I recognized the voice of Mr
Babylon. You see, I didn't want to frighten you.
If I had bobbed up from behind the bottles and said "Booh!" you
would have had a serious shock. I wanted to think of a way of
breaking my presence gently to you. But you saved me the trouble,
Dad. Was I really breathing so loudly that you could hear me?'
The girl ended her strange recital, and there was a moment's
silence in the cellar. Racksole merely nodded an affirmative to her
'Well, Nell, my girl,' said the millionaire at length, 'we are much
obliged for your gymnastic efforts - very much obliged. But now, I
think you had better go off to bed. There is going to be some
serious trouble here, I'll lay my last dollar on that?'
'But if there is to be a burglary I should so like to see it, Dad,' Nella
pleaded. 'I've never seen a burglar caught red-handed.'
'This isn't a burglary, my dear. I calculate it's something far worse
than a burglary.'
'What?' she cried. 'Murder? Arson? Dynamite plot? How perfectly
'Mr Babylon informs me that Jules is in London,' said Racksole
'Jules!' she exclaimed under her breath, and her tone changed
instantly to the utmost seriousness. 'Switch off the light, quick!'
Springing to the switch, she put the cellar in darkness.
'What's that for?' said her father.
'If he comes back he would see the light, and be frightened away,'
said Nella. 'That wouldn't do at all.'
'It wouldn't, Miss Racksole,' said Babylon, and there was in his
voice a note of admiration for the girl's sagacity which Racksole
heard with high paternal pride.
'Listen, Nella,' said the latter, drawing his daughter to him in the
profound gloom of the cellar. 'We fancy that Jules may be trying to
tamper with a certain bottle of wine - a bottle which might
possibly be drunk by Prince Eugen. Now do you think that the man
you saw might have been Jules?'
'I hadn't previously thought of him as being Jules, but immediately
you mentioned the name I somehow knew that he was. Yes, I am
sure it was Jules.'
'Well, just hear what I have to say. There is no time to lose. If he
is coming at all he will be here very soon - and you can help.'
Racksole explained what he thought Jules' tactics might be. He
proposed that if the man returned he should not be interfered with,
but merely watched from the other side of the glass door.
'You want, as it were, to catch Mr Jules alive?' said Babylon, who
seemed rather taken aback at this novel method of dealing with
he added, 'it would be simpler and easier to inform the police of
your suspicion, and to leave everything to them.'
'My dear fellow,' said Racksole, 'we have already gone much too
far without the police to make it advisable for us to call them in at
this somewhat advanced stage of the proceedings. Besides, if you
must know it, I have a particular desire to capture the scoundrel
myself. I will leave you and Nella here, since Nella insists on
seeing everything, and I will arrange things so that once he has
entered the cellar Jules will not get out of it again - at any rate
through the grating. You had better place yourselves on the other
side of the glass door, in the big cellar; you will be in a position to
observe from there, I will skip off at once. All you have to do is to
take note of what the fellow does. If he has any accomplices
within the hotel we shall probably be able by that means to
discover who the accomplice is.'
Lighting a match and shading it with his hands, Racksole showed
them both out of the little cellar. 'Now if you lock this glass door
on the outside he can't escape this way: the panes of glass are too
small, and the woodwork too stout. So, if he comes into the trap,
you two will have the pleasure of actually seeing him frantically
writhe therein, without any personal danger; but perhaps you'd
better not show yourselves.'
In another moment Felix Babylon and Nella were left to
themselves in the darkness of the cellar, listening to the receding
footfalls of Theodore Racksole. But the sound of these footfalls
had not died away before another sound greeted their ears - the
grating of the small cellar was being removed.
'I hope your father will be in time,' whispered Felix
'Hush!' the girl warned him, and they stooped side by side in tense
A man cautiously but very neatly wormed his body through the
aperture of the grating. The watchers could only see his form
indistinctly in the darkness.
Then, being fairly within the cellar, he walked without the least
hesitation to the electric switch and turned on the light. It was
unmistakably Jules, and he knew the geography of the cellar very
well. Babylon could with difficulty repress a start as he saw this
bold and unscrupulous ex-waiter moving with such an air of
assurance and determination about the precious cellar. Jules went
directly to a small bin which was numbered 17, and took there
from the topmost bottle.
'The Romanee-Conti - Prince Eugen's wine!' Babylon exclaimed
under his breath.
Jules neatly and quickly removed the seal with an instrument
which he had clearly brought for the purpose. He then took a little
flat box from his pocket, which seemed to contain a sort of black
salve. Rubbing his finger in this, he smeared the top of the neck of
the bottle with it, just where the cork came against the glass. In
another instant he had deftly replaced the seal and restored the
bottle to its position. He then turned off the light, and made for the
aperture. When he was half-way through Nella exclaimed, 'He will
escape, after all. Dad has not had time - we must stop him.'
But Babylon, that embodiment of caution, forcibly, but
nevertheless politely, restrained this Yankee girl, whom he deemed
so rash and imprudent, and before she could free herself the lithe
form of Jules had disappeared.
Chapter Twenty-Four THE BOTTLE OF WINE
AS regards Theodore Racksole, who was to have caught his man
from the outside of the cellar, he made his way as rapidly as
possible from the wine-cellars, up to the ground floor, out of the
hotel by the quadrangle, through the quadrangle, and out into the
top of Salisbury Lane. Now, owing to the vastness of the structure
of the Grand Babylon, the mere distance thus to be traversed
amounted to a little short of a quarter of a mile, and, as it included
a number of stairs, about two dozen turnings, and several passages
which at that time of night were in darkness more or less
complete, Racksole could not have been expected to accomplish
the journey in less than five minutes. As a matter of fact, six
minutes had elapsed before he reached the top of Salisbury Lane,
because he had been delayed nearly a minute by some questions
addressed to him by a muddled and whisky-laden guest who had
got lost in the corridors. As everybody knows, there is a sharp
short bend in Salisbury Lane near the top. Racksole ran round this
at good racing speed, but he was unfortunate enough to run straight
up against the very policeman who had not long before so
courteously supplied Jules with a match. The policeman seemed to
be scarcely in so pliant a mood just then.
'Hullo!' he said, his naturally suspicious nature being doubtless
aroused by the spectacle of a bareheaded man in evening dress
running violently down the lane. 'What's this? Where are you for in
such a hurry?' and he forcibly detained Theodore Racksole for a
moment and scrutinized his face.
'Now, officer,' said Racksole quietly, 'none of your larks, if you
I've no time to lose.'
'Beg your pardon, sir,' the policeman remarked, though hesitatingly
and not quite with good temper, and Racksole was allowed to
proceed on his way. The millionaire's scheme for trapping Jules
was to get down into the little sunk yard by means of the ladder,
and then to secrete himself behind some convenient abutment of
brickwork until Mr Tom Jackson should have got into the cellar.
He therefore nimbly surmounted the railings - the railings of his
own hotel - and was gingerly descending the ladder, when lo! a
rough hand seized him by the coat-collar and with a ferocious jerk
urged him backwards. The fact was, Theodore Racksole had
counted without the policeman. That guardian of the peace,
mistrusting Racksole's manner, quietly followed him down the
lane. The sight of the millionaire climbing the railings had put him
on his mettle, and the result was the ignominious capture of
Racksole. In vain Theodore expostulated, explained,
anathematized. Only one thing would satisfy the stolid policeman -
namely, that Racksole should return with him to the hotel and
there establish his identity. If Racksole then proved to be
Racksole, owner of the Grand Babylon, well and good - the
policeman promised to apologize. So Theodore had no alternative
but to accept the suggestion. To prove his identity was, of course,
the work of only a few minutes, after which Racksole, annoyed,
but cool as ever, returned to his railings, while the policeman went
off to another part of his beat, where he would be likely to meet a
comrade and have a chat.
In the meantime, our friend Jules, sublimely unconscious of the
altercation going on outside, and of the special risk which he ran,
was of course actually in the cellar, which he had reached before
Racksole got to the railings for the first time. It was, indeed, a
happy chance for Jules that his exit from the cellar coincided with
the period during which Racksole was absent from the railings. As
Racksole came down the lane for the second time, he saw a figure
walking about fifty yards in front of him towards the Embankment.
Instantly he divined that it was Jules, and that the policeman had
thrown him just too late. He ran, and Jules, hearing the noise of
pursuit, ran also. The ex-waiter was fleet; he made direct for a
certain spot in the Embankment wall, and, to the intense
astonishment of Racksole, jumped clean over the wall, as it
seemed, into the river. 'Is he so desperate as to commit suicide?'
Racksole exclaimed as he ran, but a second later the puff and snort
of a steam launch told him that Jules was not quite driven to
suicide. As the millionaire crossed the Embankment roadway he
saw the funnel of the launch move out from under the river-wall. It
swerved into midstream and headed towards London Bridge. There
was a silent mist over the river. Racksole was helpless. . . .
Although Racksole had now been twice worsted in a contest of
wits within the precincts of the Grand Babylon, once by Rocco and
once by Jules, he could not fairly blame himself for the present
miscarriage of his plans - a miscarriage due to the
meddlesomeness of an extraneous person, combined with pure
ill-fortune. He did not, therefore, permit the accident to interfere
with his sleep that night.
On the following day he sought out Prince Aribert, between whom
and himself there now existed a feeling of unmistakable, frank
friendship, and disclosed to him the happenings of the previous
night, and particularly the tampering with the bottle of
'I believe you dined with Prince Eugen last night?'
'I did. And curiously enough we had a bottle of Roman�e-Conti,
an admirable wine, of which Eugen is passionately fond.'
'And you will dine with him to-night?'
'Most probably. To-day will, I fear, be our last day here. Eugen
wishes to return to Posen early to-morrow.'
'Has it struck you, Prince,' said Racksole, 'that if Jules had
succeeded in poisoning your nephew, he would probably have
succeeded also in poisoning you?'
'I had not thought of it,' laughed Aribert, 'but it would seem so. It
appears that so long as he brings down his particular quarry, Jules
is careless of anything else that may be accidentally involved in
the destruction. However, we need have no fear on that score now.
You know the bottle, and you can destroy it at once.'
'But I do not propose to destroy it,' said Racksole calmly. 'If Prince
Eugen asks for Roman�e-Conti to be served to-night, as he
probably will, I propose that that precise bottle shall be served to
him - and to you.'
'Then you would poison us in spite of ourselves?'
'Scarcely,' Racksole smiled. 'My notion is to discover the
accomplices within the hotel. I have already inquired as to the
wine-clerk, Hubbard. Now does it not occur to you as
extraordinary that on this particular day Mr Hubbard should be ill
in bed? Hubbard, I am informed, is suffering from an attack of
stomach poisoning, which has supervened during the night. He
says that he does not know what can have caused it. His place in
the wine cellars will be taken to-day by his assistant, a mere youth,
but to all appearances a fairly smart youth. I need not say that we
shall keep an eye on that youth.'
'One moment,' Prince Aribert interrupted. 'I do not quite
understand how you think the poisoning was to have been
'The bottle is now under examination by an expert, who has
instructions to remove as little as possible of the stuff which Jules
put on the rim of the mouth of it. It will be secretly replaced in its
bin during the day. My idea is that by the mere action of pouring
out the wine takes up some of the poison, which I deem to be very
strong, and thus becomes fatal as it enters the glass.'
'But surely the servant in attendance would wipe the mouth of the
'Very carelessly, perhaps. And moreover he would be extremely
unlikely to wipe off all the stuff; some of it has been ingeniously
placed just on the inside edge of the rim. Besides, suppose he
forgot to wipe the bottle?'
'Prince Eugen is always served at dinner by Hans. It is an honour
which the faithful old fellow reserves for himself.'
'But suppose Hans - ' Racksole stopped.
'Hans an accomplice! My dear Racksole, the suggestion is wildly
That night Prince Aribert dined with his august nephew in the
superb dining-room of the Royal apartments. Hans served, the
dishes being brought to the door by other servants. Aribert found
his nephew despondent and taciturn. On the previous day, when,
after the futile interview with Sampson Levi, Prince Eugen had
despairingly threatened to commit suicide, in such a manner as to
make it 'look like an accident', Aribert had compelled him to give
his word of honour not to do so.
'What wine will your Royal Highness take?' asked old Hans in his
soothing tones, when the soup was served.
'Sherry,' was Prince Eugen's curt order.
'And Roman�e-Conti afterwards?' said Hans. Aribert looked up
'No, not to-night. I'll try Sillery to-night,' said Prince Eugen.
'I think I'll have Roman�e-Conti, Hans, after all,' he said. 'It suits
me better than champagne.'
The famous and unsurpassable Burgundy was served with the
roast. Old Hans brought it tenderly in its wicker cradle, inserted
the corkscrew with mathematical precision, and drew the cork,
which he offered for his master's inspection. Eugen nodded, and
told him to put it down. Aribert watched with intense interest. He
could not for an instant believe that Hans was not the very soul of
fidelity, and yet, despite himself, Racksole's words had caused him
a certain uneasiness. At that moment Prince Eugen murmured
across the table:
'Aribert, I withdraw my promise. Observe that, I withdraw it.'
Aribert shook his head emphatically, without removing his gaze
from Hans. The white-haired servant perfunctorily dusted his
napkin round the neck of the bottle of Roman�e-Conti, and
poured out a glass. Aribert trembled from head to foot.
Eugen took up the glass and held it to the light.
'Don't drink it,' said Aribert very quietly. 'It is poisoned.'
'Poisoned!' exclaimed Prince Eugen.
'Poisoned, sire!' exclaimed old Hans, with an air of profound
amazement and concern, and he seized the glass. 'Impossible, sire.
I myself opened the bottle. No one else has touched it, and the
cork was perfect.'
'I tell you it is poisoned,' Aribert repeated.
'Your Highness will pardon an old man,' said Hans, 'but to say that
this wine is poison is to say that I am a murderer. I will prove to
you that it is not poisoned. I will drink it.' And he raised the glass
to his trembling lips. In that moment Aribert saw that old Hans, at
any rate, was not an accomplice of Jules. Springing up from his
seat, he knocked the glass from the aged servitor's hands, and the
fragments of it fell with a light tinkling crash partly on the table
and partly on the floor. The Prince and the servant gazed at one
another in a distressing and terrible silence.
There was a slight noise, and Aribert looked aside. He saw that
Eugen's body had slipped forward limply over the left arm of his
chair; the Prince's arms hung straight and lifeless; his eyes were
closed; he was unconscious.
'Hans!' murmured Aribert. 'Hans! What is this?'
Chapter Twenty-Five THE STEAM LAUNCH
MR TOM JACKSON's notion of making good his escape from the
hotel by means of a steam launch was an excellent one, so far as it
went, but Theodore Racksole, for his part, did not consider that it
went quite far enough.
Theodore Racksole opined, with peculiar glee, that he now had a
tangible and definite clue for the catching of the Grand Babylon's
ex-waiter. He knew nothing of the Port of London, but he
happened to know a good deal of the far more complicated, though
somewhat smaller, Port of New York, and he sure there ought to
be no extraordinary difficulty in getting hold of Jules'
steam launch. To those who are not thoroughly familiar with it the
River Thames and its docks, from London Bridge to Gravesend,
seems a vast and uncharted wilderness of craft - a wilderness in
which it would be perfectly easy to hide even a three-master
successfully. To such people the idea of looking for a steam launch
on the river would be about equivalent to the idea of looking for a
needle in a bundle of hay. But the fact is, there are hundreds of
men between St Katherine's Wharf and Blackwall who literally
know the Thames as the suburban householder knows his
back-garden - who can recognize thousands of ships and put a
name to them at a distance of half a mile, who are informed as to
every movement of vessels on the great stream, who know all the
captains, all the engineers, all the lightermen, all the pilots, all the
licensed watermen, and all the unlicensed scoundrels from the
Tower to Gravesend, and a lot further. By these experts of the
Thames the slightest unusual event on the water is noticed and
discussed - a wherry cannot change hands but they will guess
shrewdly upon the price paid and the intentions of the new owner
with regard to it. They have a habit of watching the river for the
mere interest of the sight, and they talk about everything like
housewives gathered of an evening round the cottage door. If the
first mate of a Castle Liner gets the sack they will be able to tell
you what he said to the captain, what the old man said to him, and
what both said to the Board, and having finished off that affair
they will cheerfully turn to discussing whether Bill Stevens sank
his barge outside the West Indian No.2 by accident or on purpose.
Theodore Racksole had no satisfactory means of identifying the
steam launch which carried away Mr Tom Jackson. The sky had
clouded over soon after midnight, and there was also a slight mist,
and he had only been able to make out that it was a low craft,
about sixty feet long, probably painted black. He had personally
kept a watch all through the night on vessels going upstream, and
during the next morning he had a man to take his place who
warned him whenever a steam launch went towards Westminster.
At noon, after his conversation with Prince Aribert, he went down
the river in a hired row-boat as far as the Custom House, and
poked about everywhere, in search of any vessel which could by
any possibility be the one he was in search of.
But he found nothing. He was, therefore, tolerably sure that the
mysterious launch lay somewhere below the Custom House. At the
Custom House stairs, he landed, and asked for a very high official
- an official inferior only to a Commissioner - whom he had
entertained once in New York, and who had met him in London on
business at Lloyd's. In the large but dingy office of this great man a
long conversation took place - a conversation in which Racksole
had to exercise a certain amount of persuasive power, and which
ultimately ended in the high official ringing his bell.
'Desire Mr Hazell - room No. 332 - to speak to me,' said the
official to the boy who answered the summons, and then, turning
to Racksole: 'I need hardly repeat, my dear Mr Racksole, that this
is strictly unofficial.'
'Agreed, of course,' said Racksole.
Mr Hazell entered. He was a young man of about thirty, dressed in
blue serge, with a pale, keen face, a brown moustache and a rather
handsome brown beard.
'Mr Hazell,' said the high official, 'let me introduce you to Mr
Theodore Racksole - you will doubtless be familiar with his name.
Mr Hazell,' he went on to Racksole, 'is one of our outdoor staff -
what we call an examining officer. Just now he is doing night duty.
He has a boat on the river and a couple of men, and the right to
board and examine any craft whatever. What Mr Hazell and his
crew don't know about the Thames between here and Gravesend
'Glad to meet you, sir,' said Racksole simply, and they shook
Racksole observed with satisfaction that Mr Hazell was entirely at
'Now, Hazell,' the high official continued, 'Mr Racksole wants you
to help in a little private expedition on the river to-night. I will
give you a night's leave. I sent for you partly because I thought you
would enjoy the affair and partly because I think I can rely on you
to regard it as entirely unofficial and not to talk about it. You
understand? I dare say you will have no cause to regret having
obliged Mr Racksole.'
'I think I grasp the situation,' said Hazell, with a slight smile.
'And, by the way,' added the high official, 'although the business is
unofficial, it might be well if you wore your official overcoat.
'Decidedly,' said Hazell; 'I should have done so in any case.'
'And now, Mr Hazell,' said Racksole, 'will you do me the pleasure
of lunching with me? If you agree, I should like to lunch at the
place you usually frequent.'
So it came to pass that Theodore Racksole and George Hazell,
outdoor clerk in the Customs, lunched together at 'Thomas's
Chop-House', in the city of London, upon mutton-chops and
coffee. The millionaire soon discovered that he had got hold of a
keen-witted man and a person of much insight.
'Tell me,' said Hazell, when they had reached the cigarette stage,
'are the magazine writers anything like correct?'
'What do you mean?' asked Racksole, mystified.
'Well, you're a millionaire - "one of the best", I believe. One often
sees articles on and interviews with millionaires, which describe
their private railroad cars, their steam yachts on the Hudson, their
marble stables, and so on, and so on. Do you happen to have those
'I have a private car on the New York Central, and I have a two
thousand ton schooner-yacht - though it isn't on the Hudson. It
happens just now to be on East River. And I am bound to admit
that the stables of my uptown place are fitted with marble.'
'Ah!' said Hazell. 'Now I can believe that I am lunching with a
It's strange how facts like those - unimportant in themselves -
appeal to the imagination. You seem to me a real millionaire now.
You've given me some personal information; I'll give you some in
return. I earn three hundred a year, and perhaps sixty pounds a year
extra for overtime. I live by myself in two rooms in Muscovy
Court. I've as much money as I need, and I always do exactly what
I like outside office. As regards the office, I do as little work as I
can, on principle - it's a fight between us and the Commissioners
who shall get the best. They try to do us down, and we try to do
them down - it's pretty even on the whole. All's fair in war, you
know, and there ain't no ten commandments in a Government
Racksole laughed. 'Can you get off this afternoon?' he asked.
'Certainly,' said Hazell; 'I'll get one of my pals to sign on for me,
and then I shall be free.'
'Well,' said Racksole, 'I should like you to come down with me to
the Grand Babylon. Then we can talk over my little affair at
length. And may we go on your boat? I want to meet your crew.'
'That will be all right,' Hazell remarked. 'My two men are the
idlest, most soul-less chaps you ever saw. They eat too much, and
they have an enormous appetite for beer; but they know the river,
and they know their business, and they will do anything within the
fair game if they are paid for it, and aren't asked to hurry.'
That night, just after dark, Theodore Racksole embarked with his
new friend George Hazell in one of the black-painted Customs
wherries, manned by a crew of two men - both the later freemen of
the river, a distinction which carries with it certain privileges
unfamiliar to the mere landsman. It was a cloudy and oppressive
evening, not a star showing to illumine the slow tide, now just past
its flood. The vast forms of steamers at anchor - chiefly those of
the General Steam Navigation and the Aberdeen Line - heaved
themselves high out of the water, straining sluggishly at their
mooring buoys. On either side the naked walls of warehouses rose
like grey precipices from the stream, holding forth quaint arms of
steam-cranes. To the west the Tower Bridge spanned the river with
its formidable arch, and above that its suspended footpath - a
hundred and fifty feet from earth.
Down towards the east and the Pool of London a forest of funnels
and masts was dimly outlined against the sinister sky. Huge barges,
each steered by a single man at the end of a pair of giant oars,
lumbered and swirled down-stream at all angles. Occasionally a
tug snorted busily past, flashing its red and green signals and
dragging an unwieldy tail of barges in its wake. Then a Margate
passenger steamer, its electric lights gleaming from every porthole,
swerved round to anchor, with its load of two thousand fatigued
excursionists. Over everything brooded an air of mystery - a spirit
and feeling of strangeness, remoteness, and the inexplicable. As
the broad flat little boat bobbed its way under the shadow of
enormous hulks, beneath stretched hawsers, and past buoys
covered with green slime, Racksole could scarcely believe that he
was in the very heart of London - the most prosaic city in the
world. He had a queer idea that almost anything might happen in
this seeming waste of waters at this weird hour of ten o'clock. It
appeared incredible to him that only a mile or two away people
were sitting in theatres applauding farces, and that at Cannon
Street Station, a few yards off, other people were calmly taking the
train to various highly respectable suburbs whose names he was
gradually learning. He had the uplifting sensation of being in
another world which comes to us sometimes amid surroundings
violently different from our usual surroundings. The most ordinary
noises - of men calling, of a chain running through a slot, of a
distant siren - translated themselves to his ears into terrible and
haunting sounds, full of portentous significance. He looked over
the side of the boat into the brown water, and asked himself what
frightful secrets lay hidden in its depth. Then he put his hand into
his hip-pocket and touched the stock of his Colt revolver - that
familiar substance comforted him.
The oarsmen had instructions to drop slowly down to the Pool, as
the wide reach below the Tower is called. These two men had not
been previously informed of the precise object of the expedition,
but now that they were safely afloat Hazell judged it expedient to
give them some notion of it. 'We expect to come across a rather
suspicious steam launch,' he said. 'My friend here is very anxious
to get a sight of her, and until he has seen her nothing definite can
'What sort of a craft is she, sir?' asked the stroke oar, a fat-faced
man who seemed absolutely incapable of any serious exertion.
'I don't know,' Racksole replied; 'but as near as I can judge, she's
about sixty feet in length, and painted black. I fancy I shall
recognize her when I see her.'
'Not much to go by, that,' exclaimed the other man curtly. But he
said no more. He, as well as his mate, had received from Theodore
Racksole one English sovereign as a kind of preliminary fee, and
an English sovereign will do a lot towards silencing the natural
sarcastic tendencies and free speech of a Thames waterman.
'There's one thing I noticed,' said Racksole suddenly, 'and I forgot
to tell you of it, Mr Hazell. Her screw seemed to move with a
rather irregular, lame sort of beat.'
Both watermen burst into a laugh.
'Oh,' said the fat rower, 'I know what you're after, sir - it's Jack
Everett's launch, commonly called "Squirm". She's got a
four-bladed propeller, and one blade is broken off short.'
'Ay, that's it, sure enough,' agreed the man in the bows. 'And if it's
her you want, I seed her lying up against Cherry Gardens Pier this
'Let us go to Cherry Gardens Pier by all means, as soon as
Racksole said, and the boat swung across stream and then began to
creep down by the right bank, feeling its way past wharves, many
of which, even at that hour, were still busy with their cranes, that
descended empty into the bellies of ships and came up full. As the
two watermen gingerly manoeuvred the boat on the ebbing tide,
Hazell explained to the millionaire that the 'Squirm' was one of the
most notorious craft on the river. It appeared that when anyone had
a nefarious or underhand scheme afoot which necessitated river
work Everett's launch was always available for a suitable monetary
consideration. The 'Squirm' had got itself into a thousand scrapes,
and out of those scrapes again with safety, if not precisely with
honour. The river police kept a watchful eye on it, and the chief
marvel about the whole thing was that old Everett, the owner, had
never yet been seriously compromised in any illegal escapade. Not
once had the officer of the law been able to prove anything definite
against the proprietor of the 'Squirm', though several of its
quondam hirers were at that very moment in various of Her
Majesty's prisons throughout the country. Latterly, however, the
launch, with its damaged propeller, which Everett consistently
refused to have repaired, had acquired an evil reputation, even
among evil-doers, and this fraternity had gradually come to
abandon it for less easily recognizable craft.
'Your friend, Mr Tom Jackson,' said Hazell to Racksole,
'committed an error of discretion when he hired the "Squirm". A
scoundrel of his experience and calibre ought certainly to have
known better than that. You cannot fail to get a clue now.'
By this time the boat was approaching Cherry Gardens Pier, but
unfortunately a thin night-fog had swept over the river, and objects
could not be discerned with any clearness beyond a distance of
thirty yards. As the Customs boat scraped down past the pier all its
occupants strained eyes for a glimpse of the mysterious launch, but
nothing could be seen of it. The boat continued to float idly
down-stream, the men resting on their oars.
Then they narrowly escaped bumping a large Norwegian sailing
vessel at anchor with her stem pointing down-stream. This ship
they passed on the port side. Just as they got clear of her bowsprit
the fat man cried out excitedly, 'There's her nose!' and he put the
boat about and began to pull back against the tide. And surely the
missing 'Squirm' was comfortably anchored on the starboard
quarter of the Norwegian ship, hidden neatly between the ship and
the shore. The men pulled very quietly alongside.
Chapter Twenty-Six THE NIGHT CHASE AND THE MUDLARK
'I'LL board her to start with,' said Hazell, whispering to Racksole.
'I'll make out that I suspect they've got dutiable goods on board,
and that will give me a chance to have a good look at her.'
Dressed in his official overcoat and peaked cap, he stepped, rather
jauntily as Racksole thought, on to the low deck of the launch.
Racksole heard him cry out, and a woman's voice answered. 'I'm a
Customs examining officer, and I want to search the launch,'
Hazell shouted, and then disappeared down into the little saloon
amidships, and Racksole heard no more. It seemed to the
millionaire that Hazell had been gone hours, but at length he
'Can't find anything,' he said, as he jumped into the boat, and then
privately to Racksole: 'There's a woman on board. Looks as if she
might coincide with your description of Miss Spencer. Steam's up,
but there's no engineer. I asked where the engineer was, and she
inquired what business that was of mine, and requested me to get
through with my own business and clear off. Seems rather a smart
sort. I poked my nose into everything, but I saw no sign of any one
else. Perhaps we'd better pull away and lie near for a bit, just to see
if anything queer occurs.'
'You're quite sure he isn't on board?' Racksole asked.
'Quite,' said Hazell positively: 'I know how to search a vessel. See
and he handed to Racksole a sort of steel skewer, about two feet
long, with a wooden handle. 'That,' he said, 'is one of the Customs'
aids to searching.'
'I suppose it wouldn't do to go on board and carry off the lady?'
Racksole suggested doubtfully.
'Well,' Hazell began, with equal doubtfulness, 'as for that - '
'Where's 'e orf?' It was the man in the bows who interrupted Hazell.
Following the direction of the man's finger, both Hazell and
Racksole saw with more or less distinctness a dinghy slip away
from the forefoot of the Norwegian vessel and disappear
downstream into the mist.
'It's Jules, I'll swear,' cried Racksole. 'After him, men. Ten pounds
apiece if we overtake him!'
'Lay down to it now, boys!' said Hazell, and the heavy Customs
boat shot out in pursuit.
'This is going to be a lark,' Racksole remarked.
'Depends on what you call a lark,' said Hazell; 'it's not much of a
lark tearing down midstream like this in a fog. You never know
when you mayn't be in kingdom come with all these barges
knocking around. I expect that chap hid in the dinghy when he first
caught sight of us, and then slipped his painter as soon as I'd gone.'
The boat was moving at a rapid pace with the tide. Steering was a
matter of luck and instinct more than anything else. Every now and
then Hazell, who held the lines, was obliged to jerk the boat's head
sharply round to avoid a barge or an anchored vessel. It seemed to
Racksole that vessels were anchored all over the stream. He
looked about him anxiously, but for a long time he could see
nothing but mist and vague nautical forms. Then suddenly he said,
quietly enough, 'We're on the right road; I can see him ahead.
We're gaining on him.' In another minute the dinghy was plainly
visible, not twenty yards away, and the sculler - sculling frantically
now - was unmistakably Jules - Jules in a light tweed suit and a
'You were right,' Hazell said; 'this is a lark. I believe I'm getting
quite excited. It's more exciting than playing the trombone in an
orchestra. I'll run him down, eh? - and then we can drag the chap in
from the water.'
Racksole nodded, but at that moment a barge, with her red sails
set, stood out of the fog clean across the bows of the Customs boat,
which narrowly escaped instant destruction. When they got clear,
and the usual interchange of calm, nonchalant swearing was over,
the dinghy was barely to be discerned in the mist, and the fat man
was breathing in such a manner that his sighs might almost have
been heard on the banks. Racksole wanted violently to do
something, but there was nothing to do; he could only sit supine by
Hazell's side in the stern-sheets. Gradually they began again to
overtake the dinghy, whose one-man crew was evidently tiring. As
they came up, hand over fist, the dinghy's nose swerved aside, and
the tiny craft passed down a water-lane between two anchored
mineral barges, which lay black and deserted about fifty yards
from the Surrey shore. 'To starboard,' said Racksole. 'No, man!'
Hazell replied; 'we can't get through there. He's bound to come Out
below; it's only a feint. I'll keep our nose straight ahead.'
And they went on, the fat man pounding away, with a face which
glistened even in the thick gloom. It was an empty dinghy which
emerged from between the two barges and went drifting and
revolving down towards Greenwich.
The fat man gasped a word to his comrade, and the Customs boat
''E's all right,' said the man in the bows. 'If it's 'im you want, 'e's on
one o' them barges, so you've only got to step on and take 'im orf.'
'That's all,' said a voice out of the depths of the nearest barge, and
it was the voice of Jules, otherwise known as Mr Tom Jackson.
"Ear 'im?' said the fat man smiling. ''E's a good 'un, 'e is. But if I
was you, Mr Hazell, or you, sir, I shouldn't step on to that barge so
quick as all that.'
They backed the boat under the stem of the nearest barge and
'It's all right,' said Racksole to Hazell; 'I've got a revolver. How can
I clamber up there?'
'Yes, I dare say you've got a revolver all right,' Hazell replied
'But you mustn't use it. There mustn't be any noise. We should
have the river police down on us in a twinkling if there was a
revolver shot, and it would be the ruin of me. If an inquiry was
held the Commissioners wouldn't take any official notice of the
fact that my superior officer had put me on to this job, and I should
be requested to leave the service.'
'Have no fear on that score,' said Racksole. 'I shall, of course, take
'It wouldn't matter how much responsibility you took,' Hazell
retorted; 'you wouldn't put me back into the service, and my career
would be at an end.'
'But there are other careers,' said Racksole, who was really anxious
to lame his ex-waiter by means of a judiciously-aimed bullet.
'There are other careers.'
'The Customs is my career,' said Hazell, 'so let's have no shooting.
We'll wait about a bit; he can't escape. You can have my skewer if
you like' - and he gave Racksole his searching instrument. 'And
you can do what you please, provided you do it neatly and don't
make a row over it.'
For a few moments the four men were passive in the boat,
surrounded by swirling mist, with black water beneath them, and
towering above them a half-loaded barge with a desperate and
resourceful man on board. Suddenly the mist parted and shrivelled
away in patches, as though before the breath of some monster. The
sky was visible; it was a clear sky, and the moon was shining. The
transformation was just one of those meteorological quick-changes
which happen most frequently on a great river.
'That's a sight better,' said the fat man. At the same moment a head
appeared over the edge of the barge. It was Jules' face - dark,
sinister and leering.
'Is it Mr Racksole in that boat?' he inquired calmly; 'because if so,
let Mr Racksole step up. Mr Racksole has caught me, and he can
have me for the asking. Here I am.' He stood up to his full height
on the barge, tall against the night sky, and all the occupants of the
boat could see that he held firmly clasped in his right hand a short
dagger. 'Now, Mr Racksole, you've been after me for a long time,'
he continued; 'here I am. Why don't you step up? If you haven't got
the pluck yourself, persuade someone else to step up in your place
. . . the same fair treatment will be accorded to all.' And Jules
laughed a low, penetrating laugh.
He was in the midst of this laugh when he lurched suddenly
'What'r' you doing of aboard my barge? Off you goes!' It was a
boy's small shrill voice that sounded in the night. A ragged boy's
small form had appeared silently behind Jules, and two small arms
with a vicious shove precipitated him into the water. He fell with a
fine gurgling splash. It was at once obvious that swimming was not
among Jules' accomplishments. He floundered wildly and sank.
When he reappeared he was dragged into the Customs boat. Rope
was produced, and in a minute or two the man lay ignominiously
bound in the bottom of the boat. With the aid of a mudlark - a
mere barge boy, who probably had no more right on the barge than
Jules himself - Racksole had won his game. For the first time for
several weeks the millionaire experienced a sensation of
equanimity and satisfaction. He leaned over the prostrate form of
Jules, Hazell's professional skewer in his hand.
'What are you going to do with him now?' asked Hazell.
'We'll row up to the landing steps in front of the Grand Babylon.
He shall be well lodged at my hotel, I promise him.'
Jules spoke no word.
Before Racksole parted company with the Customs man that night
Jules had been safely transported into the Grand Babylon Hotel
and the two watermen had received their �10 apiece.
'You will sleep here?' said the millionaire to Mr George Hazell. 'It
'With pleasure,' said Hazell. The next morning he found a
sumptuous breakfast awaiting him, and in his table-napkin was a
Bank of England note for a hundred pounds. But, though he did
not hear of them till much later, many things had happened before
Hazell consumed that sumptuous breakfast.
Chapter Twenty-Seven THE CONFESSION OF MR TOM
IT happened that the small bedroom occupied by Jules during the
years he was head-waiter at the Grand Babylon had remained
empty since his sudden dismissal by Theodore Racksole. No other
head-waiter had been formally appointed in his place; and, indeed,
the absence of one man - even the unique Jules - could scarcely
have been noticed in the enormous staff of a place like the Grand
Babylon. The functions of a head-waiter are generally more
ornamental, spectacular, and morally impressive than useful, and it
was so at the great hotel on the Embankment. Racksole
accordingly had the excellent idea of transporting his prisoner,
with as much secrecy as possible, to this empty bedroom. There
proved to be no difficulty in doing so; Jules showed himself
perfectly amenable to a show of superior force.
Racksole took upstairs with him an old commissionaire who had
been attached to the outdoor service of the hotel for many years - a
grey-haired man, wiry as a terrier and strong as a mastiff. Entering
the bedroom with Jules, whose hands were bound, he told the
commissionaire to remain outside the door.
Jules' bedroom was quite an ordinary apartment, though perhaps
slightly superior to the usual accommodation provided for servants
in the caravanserais of the West End. It was about fourteen by
twelve. It was furnished with a bedstead, a small wardrobe, a -mall
washstand and dressing-table, and two chairs. There were two
hooks behind the door, a strip of carpet by the bed, and some
cheap ornaments on the iron mantelpiece. There was also one
electric light. The window was a little square one, high up from
the floor, and it looked on the inner quadrangle.
The room was on the top storey - the eighth - and from it you had a
view sheer to the ground. Twenty feet below ran a narrow cornice
about a foot wide; three feet or so above the window another and
wider cornice jutted out, and above that was the high steep roof of
the hotel, though you could not see it from the window. As
Racksole examined the window and the outlook, he said to himself
that Jules could not escape by that exit, at any rate. He gave a
glance up the chimney, and saw that the flue was far too small to
admit a man's body.
Then he called in the commissionaire, and together they bound
Jules firmly to the bedstead, allowing him, however, to lie down.
All the while the captive never opened his mouth - merely smiled a
smile of disdain. Finally Racksole removed the ornaments, the
carpet, the chairs and the hooks, and wrenched away the switch of
the electric light. Then he and the commissionaire left the room,
and Racksole locked the door on the outside and put the key in his
'You will keep watch here,' he said to the commissionaire, 'through
the night. You can sit on this chair. Don't go to sleep. If you hear
the slightest noise in the room blow your cab-whistle; I will
arrange to answer the signal. If there is no noise do nothing
whatever. I don't want this talked about, you understand. I shall
trust you; you can trust me.'
'But the servants will see me here when they get up to-morrow,'
said the commissionaire, with a faint smile, 'and they will be pretty
certain to ask what I'm doing of up here. What shall I say to 'em?'
'You've been a soldier, haven't you?' asked Racksole.
'I've seen three campaigns, sir,' was the reply, and, with a gesture
of pardonable pride, the grey-haired fellow pointed to the medals
on his breast.
'Well, supposing you were on sentry duty and some meddlesome
person in camp asked you what you were doing - what should you
'I should tell him to clear off or take the consequences, and pretty
'Do that to-morrow morning, then, if necessary,' said Racksole, and
It was then about one o'clock a.m. The millionaire retired to bed -
not his own bed, but a bed on the seventh storey. He did not,
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
'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
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
'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
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
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 Roman�e-Conti should be
served to his Highness Prince Eugen?'
'Then you discovered that in time, did you?' said Jules. 'I was afraid
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