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The Grand Babylon Hotel, a novel by Arnold Bennett


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_ IT was of course plain to Racksole that the peculiar passageway
which he had, at great personal inconvenience, discovered between
the bathroom of No. 111 and the State bathroom on the floor
below must have been specially designed by some person or
persons for the purpose of keeping a nefarious watch upon the
occupants of the State suite of apartments. It was a means of
communication at once simple and ingenious. At that moment he
could not be sure of the precise method employed for it, but he
surmised that the casing of the waterpipes had been used as a
'well', while space for the pipes themselves had been found in the
thickness of the ample brick walls of the Grand Babylon. The
eye-hole, through which he now had a view of the bedroom, was a
very minute one, and probably would scarcely be noticed from the
exterior. One thing he observed concerning it, namely, that it had
been made for a man somewhat taller than himself; he was obliged
to stand on tiptoe in order to get his eye in the correct position. He
remembered that both Jules and Rocco were distinctly above the
average height; also that they were both thin men, and could have
descended the well with comparative ease. Theodore Racksole,
though not stout, was a well-set man with large bones.

These things flashed through his mind as he gazed, spellbound, at
the mysterious movements of Rocco. The door between the
bathroom and the bedroom was wide open, and his own situation
was such that his view embraced a considerable portion of the
bedroom, including the whole of the immense and
gorgeously-upholstered bedstead, but not including the whole of
the marble washstand. He could see only half of the washstand,
and at intervals Rocco passed out of sight as his lithe hands moved
over the object which lay on the marble. At first Theodore
Racksole could not decide what this object was, but after a time, as
his eyes grew accustomed to the position and the light, he made it

It was the body of a man. Or, rather, to be more exact, Racksole
could discern the legs of a man on that half of the table which was
visible to him. Involuntarily he shuddered, as the conviction forced
itself upon him that Rocco had some unconscious human being
helpless on that cold marble surface. The legs never moved.
Therefore, the hapless creature was either asleep or under the
influence of an anaesthetic - or (horrible thought!) dead.

Racksole wanted to call out, to stop by some means or other the
dreadful midnight activity which was proceeding before his
astonished eyes; but fortunately he restrained himself.

On the washstand he could see certain strangely-shaped utensils
and instruments which Rocco used from time to time. The work
seemed to Racksole to continue for interminable hours, and then at
last Rocco ceased, gave a sign of satisfaction, whistled several bars
from 'Cavalleria Rusticana', and came into the bath-room, where
he took off his coat, and very quietly washed his hands. As he
stood calmly and leisurely wiping those long fingers of his, he was
less than four feet from Racksole, and the cooped-up millionaire
trembled, holding his breath, lest Rocco should detect his presence
behind the woodwork. But nothing happened, and Rocco returned
unsuspectingly to the bedroom. Racksole saw him place some sort
of white flannel garment over the prone form on the table, and
then lift it bodily on to the great bed, where it lay awfully still. The
hidden watcher was sure now that it was a corpse upon which
Rocco had been exercising his mysterious and sinister functions.

But whose corpse? And what functions? Could this be a West End
hotel, Racksole's own hotel, in the very heart of London, the
best-policed city in the world? It seemed incredible, impossible;
yet so it was. Once more he remembered what Felix Babylon had
said to him and realized the truth of the saying anew. The
proprietor of a vast and complicated establishment like the Grand
Babylon could never know a tithe of the extraordinary and queer
occurrences which happened daily under his very nose; the
atmosphere of such a caravanserai must necessarily be an
atmosphere of mystery and problems apparently inexplicable.
Nevertheless, Racksole thought that Fate was carrying things with
rather a high hand when she permitted his chef to spend the night
hours over a man's corpse in his State bedroom, this sacred
apartment which was supposed to be occupied only by individuals
of Royal Blood. Racksole would not have objected to a certain
amount of mystery, but he decidedly thought that there was a little
too much mystery here for his taste. He thought that even Felix
Babylon would have been surprised at this.

The electric chandelier in the centre of the ceiling was not lighted;
only the two lights on either side of the washstand were switched
on, and these did not sufficiently illuminate the features of the man
on the bed to enable Racksole to see them clearly. In vain the
millionaire strained his eyes; he could only make out that the
corpse was probably that of a young man. Just as he was
wondering what would be the best course of action to pursue, he
saw Rocco with a square-shaped black box in his hand. Then the
chef switched off the two electric lights, and the State bedroom
was in darkness. In that swift darkness Racksole heard Rocco
spring on to the bed. Another half-dozen moments of suspense,
and there was a blinding flash of white, which endured for several
seconds, and showed Rocco standing like an evil spirit over the
corpse, the black box in one hand and a burning piece of
aluminium wire in the other. The aluminium wire burnt out, and
darkness followed blacker than before.

Rocco had photographed the corpse by flashlight.

But the dazzling flare which had disclosed the features of the dead
man to the insensible lens of the camera had disclosed them also
to Theodore Racksole. The dead man was Reginald Dimmock!

Stung into action by this discovery, Racksole tried to find the exit
from his place of concealment. He felt sure that there existed some
way out into the State bathroom, but he sought for it fruitlessly,
groping with both hands and feet. Then he decided that he must
ascend the rope-ladder, make haste for the first-floor corridor, and
intercept Rocco when he left the State apartments. It was a painful
and difficult business to ascend that thin and yielding ladder in
such a confined space, but Racksole was managing it very nicely,
and had nearly reached the top, when, by some untoward freak of
chance, the ladder broke above his weight, and he slipped
ignominiously down to the bottom of the wooden tube. Smothering
an excusable curse, Racksole crouched, baffled. Then he saw that
the force of his fall had somehow opened a trap-door at his feet.
He squeezed through, pushed open another tiny door, and in
another second stood in the State bathroom. He was dishevelled,
perspiring, rather bewildered; but he was there. In the next second
he had resumed absolute command of all his faculties.

Strange to say, he had moved so quietly that Rocco had apparently
not heard him. He stepped noiselessly to the door between the
bathroom and the bedroom, and stood there in silence. Rocco had
switched on again the lights over the washstand and was busy with
his utensils.

Racksole deliberately coughed. _


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